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Introduction to Serious Games and Their Design for Grades 7–8

About the author

Introduction

Serious games are games whose primary purpose is education and training as opposed to entertainment. They take advantage of the ability of computer games to attract and engage players/learners for a specific purpose, such as to develop new knowledge or skills. With respect to students, strong engagement has been associated with higher academic achievement. The use of serious games within a wide range of educational and training applications is becoming widespread, particularly given the current generation of learners who are growing up spending a large amount of time playing video games. Despite the growing popularity of serious games, however, designing them is a difficult task. It is an interdisciplinary process, requiring expertise in a variety of fields including game design and development, computer science/engineering, education (instructional design), and content expertise (e.g., medicine/surgery when considering the creation of a serious game for surgical education). Although serious games designers are not expected to be experts in instructional design and the specific area of game content, possessing some knowledge in these areas will, at the very least, promote effective communication between interdisciplinary team members.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of this lesson, students will have:

  1. Played and reviewed a serious game.
  2. Developed an understanding of serious games and their purpose, their advantages and limitations, and their relationship to video games.
  3. Become familiar with what is involved in developing a serious game.
  4. Become aware of the many career opportunities in the serious gaming field.

Vocabulary

Engagement
Fully occupied in, giving your full attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion to a task or activity
Fidelity (realism)
The degree to which the simulator replicates reality
Game-based learning
Using games to teach through repetition, failure and the accomplishment of goals
Motivation
Stimulating people to actions that accomplish goals
Play
Doing something (an activity) only because it is fun and enjoyable
Prototype
An early iteration of a game, created with the intention of determining the feasibility of the gameplay concept
Video game
An electronic game where players control images on a video screen
Serious game
A video game whose primary purpose is education, training, advertising, or simulation as opposed to entertainment

Guiding Questions (Pre-Activity Questions)

  1. Do you play video games? If yes:
    • How many hours per week?
    • What is your favourite video game?
    • What do you like most and least about your favourite video game?
    • How do you feel when you play your favourite video game?
  2. What makes video games so much fun? Why can people play video games for so many hours?
  3. Do you learn anything by playing video games? Explain.
  4. Can video games be used in school to help you learn?

Curriculum Links

Serious game design is a subset of game design. This game design resource available from Extra Credits called Making Your First Game: Basics—How to Start Your Game Development provides additional information.


Materials

  • Pen/pencil and paper 
  • Computer (Mac or PC) with a web browser (Edge, Chrome or Firefox) and Adobe Flash installed
  • Internet access

Activity 1

Time Required: 15 minutes

Students should answer the pre-activity questions with a partner and then discuss their answers with the class.

Didactic Component

Time Required: 34 minutes 

Introduce serious games to students using the PowerPoint-based video. The video highlights the relationship between serious games and video games, provides a brief overview of serious game design and development, and presents several examples of serious games.

Computer Activity

Playing a Serious Game

Time Required: 15 minutes

Students play DriversEd, a “fun driver education simulator game for kids.” DriversEd is available from the Learn 4 Kids website. Instructions for using the game are available on the website.

Students should follow the instructions and should be encouraged to experiment freely with the game. There are some problems with this serious game and the intention of this activity is that students discover some of them.


Activity 2

Time Required: 25 minutes

This activity  includes a series of questions related to DriversEd. While completing the activity, students will have the opportunity to discuss some of the problems in the game and suggest potential improvements. Pose the questions listed below to students. They should answer the questions individually or in small groups, and a group discussion should follow.

Your Feelings About DriversEd

  1. How did you feel while playing DriversEd?
  2. Did you find DriversEd fun?
  3. Did you find DriversEd frustrating? If so, why?
  4. Will you play DriversEd again?
  5. Who are the target learners for DriversEd?

DriversEd and Learning

  1. Is DriversEd easy to use?
  2. Did you learn anything by playing DriversEd?
  3. Do you think playing DriversEd will help you be a better driver?

Improving DriversEd

  1. Provide some comments or details regarding DriversEd, considering the following:
    • Graphics
    • Sound
    • Interaction (how do you interact with the game, e.g., how do you drive the car?)
    • Instructions
  2. What changes or additions would you suggest to make DriversEd easier to use?
  3. What changes or additions would you suggest to make DriversEd a better teaching tool?

Some possible answers for Activity 2 questions:

  • Graphics: generally, the graphics for this style of game are OK. Students may suggest adding 3D graphics or changing colours, etc.
  • Sound: might be annoying— loud, sound playing prior to start, sound does not correspond to the state of the game (i.e., it is consistent regardless of what the player is doing)
  • Instructions: unclear
  • Interactions: hard to control the car with the arrow keys; not intuitive
  • Improvements:
    • Better scoring mechanism, leaderboard to list top scores, provide a “big” reward at the end if player is successful (e.g., a driver’s licence)  
    • Graphic guides to assist players with tasks (e.g., having arrows guide the user while parallel parking)
  • Portrayal of female instructor—is she appropriate?

Additional Resources

Websites

Books

  • Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning by Marc Prensky (ISBN-13: 978-1557788580)
  • End-to-End Game Development: Creating Independent Serious Games and Simulations from Start to Finish by Nick Iuppa and Terry Borst (ISBN-13: 978-0240811796).
  • Developing Serious Games by Bryan P. Bergeron (ISBN-13: 978-1584504443).

Games & Apps

Organizations and Companies that Produce Serious Games

YouTube Videos

Social Media Resources


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