Serious Gaming

Serious Games is a designation for games for other purposes than pure entertainment. They are used by organisations in many different areas including communications, marketing and HR. Despite great progress in the new millennium, however, the Serious Games business is still only budding.

One major reason is the general misapprehension that computer games are new and uncharted business territory that is very cumbersome to work with. As a result, only a few organisations in Denmark have so far realised the opportunities for using Serious Games to add real value in professional contexts.

It's hard to drive a car if you've just read the book on driving theory
In recent years, computer games have evolved from being generally perceived as teen entertainment to being seen as an activity that a larger part of the population engages in. Today, the average computer gamer is in his/her mid-thirties, according to Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Ph.D. in psychology and owner of the company Serious Games Interactive. For many people, however, computer games are still just entertainment and are not considered a serious contributor in the organisation.

Traditionally, knowledge is mostly communicated through materials that encourage passive reception with no holistic view of the application context. Knowledge is acquired by means of e.g. user manuals or similar. The traditional approach makes for a steep learning curve; for instance, it is hard to drive a car when you have just read the book on driving theory. Similarly, it is hard to learn anything about company culture, values or change processes using company manuals.

Active learning by doing
Serious Games contrast sharply with the traditional way of communicating knowledge in organisations. As opposed to traditional knowledge communication, Serious Games encourage active learning by doing in a simulated application context, thereby creating a link to reality. In this regard, the very structure of computer games provides an advantage. One of the basic premises is that in order to win a game, you need to learn, as Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen said recently during a seminar on Serious Games. In other words, it's mostly about a focused learning experience during which users learn from their mistakes while interacting with the game. Actions in computer games have immediate consequences, as opposed to reading a user manual.

In spite of this, gaming is relatively risk free because the game only reflects reality. This makes it easier to discuss and reflect after ending the game.

Qualified customers and costs
Customers do not always have qualified knowledge of how Serious Games may be integrated in their organisations, and this greatly impacts the production schedule. At the seminar on Serious Games, games were presented that had taken anything from around six weeks to fifteen months to produce. It is also a question of finances, but according to business professionals, both small and large companies may utilise Serious Games.

The costs, however, vary widely depending on the technology the client wants. For example, there is a great difference between producing a 2D Flash game or a 3D game relying on computer animation.

Serious Games in Denmark
In Denmark, Serious Games have most notably been utilised by the armed forces who have been able to simulate exercises that would otherwise be very costly in the navy, the air force or communications units. From here, Serious Games have spread to other sectors such as healthcare and finance.

Recently, wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has also implemented the award-winning serious game "Vestas World" in which students meet and interact using virtual characters through various tasks and challenges. In this way, students get to know the values, culture, business and practical details of working at Vestas.

Are Serious Games the training and learning language of the future?
Serious Games could become a major part of the training and learning language of the future. According to Kristian Rude of the company Effective Learning, the major reason for this is that they greatly improve users' rate of learning new knowledge. The crucial point for any Serious Game, however, remains whether it succeeds in integrating the customer's messages in the game in meaningful environments and interaction designs. Furthermore, the Serious Games business needs better channels to the existing market which is huge, according to Jens Christensen, senior lecturer and DPhil at the Department of Aesthetics and Communication at the University of Aarhus and author of the book "Serious Games – a new business area". If these channels are created, however, there is a good chance that Serious Games may become a good replacement or supplement to existing ways of communicating professional knowledge internally as well as externally in various sectors of organisations.

Examples of Danish companies developing Serious Games:

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