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Simulations and serious games vocational training evolution or revolution


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An article about Simulations and Serious Games from a historical perspective and discussing the role of Caspian Learning's Thinking Worlds Platform and their partnership with Milan-based Serious Games specialists, Imaginary

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Simulations and serious games vocational training evolution or revolution

  1. 1. Simulations and Serious Games Vocational Training Evolution or Revolution?In recent years, “Serious Games” and computer-based simulations have increasingly beenused to enrich learning and development in both commercial and academic sectors. Whilstonly 50 years ago there were no electronic devices used in schools or vocational training,iPads and computers are today replacing or augmenting text books, and so called“Infotainment” applications are revolutionising media in our modern society.As computer-based simulations and serious games become more pervasive in everydaylife, they are gaining increasing credibility and significance in advanced learning anddevelopment strategies and in areas such as aircraft pilot training they are now regardedas essential and an integral part of staff development.This article seeks to explore whether these emerging and maturing technologies representa revolutionary change in conventional learning processes or simply an evolution of welltried ideas and concepts adapted to the needs of today’s Information SocietyThe use of games and simulations for learning and development is certainly not new. Theyhave been an essential part of the development of human beings and even animals sincethe dawn of time. These very early simulations were essentially role playing games inwhich people, especially children, could learn without the risks associated with the real-world activities e.g. play fighting by playing “cowboys and Indians”.The use of technology to support simulations and serious games is also not new. In theMiddle Ages, knights would train for upcoming fights with special wooden dolls, and in the20th century, early flight simulators were initially operated by hand and later by pneumaticmotors. As technology developed sufficiently, these early simulator platforms found theirway into amusement parks where they made it possible for the “man in the street” to beentertained by experiences that were previously only accessible to professionals in theaviation industry.It was probably the flight simulator that acted as the biggest catalyst for the developmentof simulation and serious games in other sectors where there could be issues of risk, costand practicality in traditional training. Areas such as fire fighting, emergency response anddisaster management and even truck driving lent themselves to the use of simulation andserious games because they made it possible for people to learn in a safe environment ata reasonable cost in conditions that might be impractical to replicate in real-worldsituations.The term “Serious Games” has now been associated closely with video game technologiesand it is generally accepted that the very first serious game was developed for theAmerican Military in 2002. "Americas Army: Operations RECON" was aimed at recruitingyoung adults to join the American Army by giving them a taste of army life in combat. Itwas soon realised that the use of a computer or games-console platform could also beused to train and prepare soldiers for combat conditions in a highly cost effective way.There is a lot of confusion over the difference between Serious Games and computer-based simulations. Indeed, both terms could justifiably be used to describe many of thetraining applications being used or developed today. Many serious games use role playing
  2. 2. in a simulated environment as a mechanism for training and development and thesimulation of situations and environments is a common component in nearly all seriousgames. Simulations generally refer to an industry or job specific application in whichtechnology has been custom developed for that specific training need, with an implicationthat the equipment and software could be quite expensive. Serious Games, on the otherhand, carry with them an implication of fun, enjoyment and entertainment as well the useof standard “off the shelf” consumer technology.However, largely driven by innovations in the video games for entertainment industry,developments in interface technologies such as the wii and Kinect as well as mobile, 3Dand graphics display technologies have meant that there is a convergence of high-endsimulation technologies and consumer serious games technologies that is blurring anydifferences between simulations and serious games even further. This has meant that thevisual quality, fidelity and immersiveness of serious games is fast approaching that of high-end simulationsCaspian Learning, a UK based award winning company with almost 10 years ofexperience in the field, are pioneers in the development of serious games and simulationsin highly developed 3D environments. Amongst their diverse range of serious gamesapplications is a mobile virtual training application for NATO maritime forces, a salessimulation for Siemens and a European Union commissioned customs border crossingsimulation.There have been very few properly researched studies into the advantages of these newtechnologies and how they can best enhance the learning experience. The early seriousgames which focused on training in hazardous situations which are costly or impractical toreproduce in the real world provide obvious benefits and there is research evidence fromparamedic training that confirms that serious games provide a more effective learningplatform because of the immersive nature of the environments in engaging the learner.Independent research has also been carried out on Caspian Learning’s “Rome in Danger”serious game which was commissioned by Bertelsmann AG to challenge the very strictlearning methods in Germany. “Rome in Danger” won a prestigious large-scale multimediaapplications competition against 90 other applications in a competition which evaluated theapplications in three categories: the motivation of learners, the learning experience, andthe learning outcome. "Rome in Danger", which was the only 3D game amongst manyother games developed in Adobe Flash and multimedia applications, got the highest scorein all three categories. This illustrates that, especially for the younger generation of “DigitalNatives”, serious games can produce very effective learning outcomesOne of the big challenges of simulations and serious games is to make it possible forsubject matter experts, teachers and training professionals to take advantage of the powerof games-based learning in their own environment, whether that be academic orcommercial. Caspian addresses these challenges through its authoring tool for 3Dsimulations, “Thinking Worlds”, which produces high quality results with low costs andminimal time expenditure.With the help of "Thinking Worlds”, the Milan-based Italian enterprise, Imaginary, whichhas been specialising in the production of Serious Games and simulations for 8 years, wasable to develop several professional Serious Games. Among these applications was aserious game about the sustainability of public open spaces. Its objective was to augmentcitizen awareness of the topic and to give teachers and professors a tool that they could
  3. 3. use through the "learning by doing" principle. It was designed as a part of the Europeanproject "ASPIS - Auditing the Sustainability of Public Spaces”.Another example to illustrate both the functionality and advantages of computer-basedsimulations and Serious Games is the project "iSpectrum", which is also co-funded by theEuropean Commission. Imaginary used the graphical elements of "Thinking Worlds"within their own proprietary serious games technology framework to develop a SeriousGame based on this projects objective of integrating autistic people into everyday workinglife. This allows the target learners to virtually experience some specific and characteristicworking situations, helping them become familiar with the environment of the workplacewithout exposing them to real-world situations.In all these and similar cases, user feedback has been very positive and helps to reinforcethe argument that computer games can deliver real-world outcomes beyond simpleentertainment. Their immersive nature and the emotional engagement of the player notonly significantly support practical learning but also can influence the attitudes, behaviourand awareness of the users.In summary, the use of modern technology for simulations and serious games doesrepresent an evolutionary development of proven learning and development practices,further enhanced by the extra dimension that these immersive technologies can bring tolearning environments. It is also arguable that computer-based simulations and seriousgames are revolutionary because of the way in which they shift the focus away fromteacher-centric dissemination of existing knowledge towards learner-centric, peer to peerdiscovery and sharing of new knowledgeCaspian Learning as undoubted leaders in both the evolution and revolution of vocationaltraining and Imaginary, as one of Europe’s most experienced and successful seriousgames companies, have decided to work closer together in the future on large-scaleprojects as well as with the dissemination of "Thinking Worlds" and its utilisation.Links to the websites and demovideos of the single projects:NATO Mobile Virtual Training: studies/military-training-case-study-nato-introduces-mobile- virtual-training.htmAspis: Vanessa
  4. 4. Screenshot of the "Boarders Ahoy" Serious Game, which was developed by Caspian for the NATO maritim forces Screenshot of the prizewinning Serious Game "Rome in Danger"
  5. 5. Screenshot of the Serious Game "ASPIS" which was produced by ImaginaryScreenshot of the "ISpectrum" Serious Game, which Imaginary designed in order to support the integration of autistic people into a working environment