In The Last Starfighter, a 1984 sci-fi flick, a video game on earth is secretly used to recruit potential hot-shots for war in space. The premise was that the skills needed to excel at the game were an analog for what was needed in combat.
Pure fiction, right? Well, consider this. In yet another case of life imitating art, the U.S. Military spent millions building a highly-popular shoot-'em-up video game called America's Army, and is distributing it freely as a thinly disguised recruiting tool that has the added bonus of measuring the behavior and performance of the would-be recruits.
From boardrooms to operating rooms, games are getting down to business as practical and effective tools for online corporate training. This should not be a surprise to anyone. Good teachers have also been good entertainers, knowing how to engage and excite their students ... otherwise the snoring can be deafening. While interactive digital media has been used for years to create eLearning, only a fraction of it has been successful in truly stimulating users to make them want to learn.
Now, with a whole new generation of kids who were raised on games entering the workforce, the bar has been raised for capturing and holding their attention. A trend, dubbed serious games, is gaining momentum, and a number of initiatives are being formed to forge productive links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy.
This new wave of interactive training tools encompasses a number of different formats and subjects, from complex, realistic physical simulations where students can safely practice handling dangerous devices, to simple interactive animated cartoons where students practice their soft skills in fictional social or business situations.
Nintendo, for example, is participating in a program to help teach diabetes patients how to manage their condition using Game Boys, and there are hundreds of business simulations available that teach how to manage a corporation from end to end, including golf courses, airlines, schools, fast food franchises ... even a fledgling democracy.
At the high end, the development costs for 3D console games are starting to rival movies, some approaching the $100 million mark, but that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to develop a serious game. In fact, with the proliferation of skilled developers, the cost of developing a simple custom Flash-based game deliverable via the web, may be no higher than what's being spent on current training efforts. Like any media offering, it's not the size of the budget that assures success, it's the quality of the production.
Our firm has long preached the gospel of EduTainment the marriage of education and entertainment and this latest tendency towards serious games only confirms and reinforces the need to engage, immerse, and stimulate your users.
||Danny Dowhal is the Learning Edge's
Director of New Media and Imagineering.
A recovered addict, he currently claims
to imbibe in nothing stronger than the
occasional game of Tetris.