Serious Games and Playing to Learn

This morning, Dean Takahashi from VentureBeat posted an interview with Sue Bohle, the executive director of the Serious Games Association (SGA). SGA is a trade association that connects those interested in the serious games industry–games that help with learning, training, and instruction across a wide range of fields, including K12 education, the military, health care.

SGA recently hosted the Serious Play Conference near Seattle, drawing about 250 attendees according to Sue.

When asked whether there has been great progress in the serious game space, Sue explained that the field is changing but still has a ways to go:

 I don’t think it will be a single game that will change everything. The question of how to put learning objectives that can be measured into a game, and then the ability to assess the game’s performance, is the Holy Grail. That problem has not been solved. That’s why the topic is an emphasis up here. It’s not going to be a single game. It’s just like education. There isn’t one math course that makes people learn everything about math. It’s the development of teaching methods that become standardized that help students learn, say, calculus. I think the same is true of serious games. The science of learning is what is fascinating to me here. We still have challenges to overcome in order to create the methods of designing games that will teach, that will train, and then that can measure the degree to which they achieve that after they’re introduced into a learning environment.

While there is much excitement about the idea of creating a game that can improve learning, there are still challenges ahead. Sue explained that “everybody generally accepts that games can produce learning” but that developers have yet to fully grasp “how they need to design a game so that it can be measured” while providing effective tools for these measurements. This is a concept I discussed this past spring with Dan Schwartz, a faculty member of the Stanford University School of Education. Many games claim to be educational but we’ve yet to really master how to create and measure effectiveness. Dan believes that it will take a cross-disciplinary approach with experts from multiple fields weighing in on design decisions and implementation to make this a reality. Learning experts and developers must work together closely to create an experience that is educational, effective, and engaging.