Table of contents
Why serious games?
With the advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), the simulation of cognitive, psychological, affective and social phenomena started. Consequently, the need to invest in learning and teaching processes became clear in the 2000s.
In the same way that researchers understand reality by recreating it on a computer, so too can children, adults and, why not, the elderly, via virtual environments. In this groove, that of digital transformation, there are serious games, video games created not only to entertain, but also and above all to experiment, learn and acquire new skills.
Serious games that are often applied to the educational sphere have the following benefits:
Serious game types
Serious games reproduce realistic scenarios, allowing players to develop analytical-spatial skills and improve skills such as problem solving and decision making.
However, in order to understand even better what they consist of, it’s good to do practical examples and list the existing types of serious games.
Training and simulations
The primary objective of serious games is to train the body. A very famous game in this sense is Just Dance, but one could also mention all those games that involve a shared screen exercise bike with other participants.
These are, for the most part, games used in the military or medical field that actually serve to provide training or simulate emergency situations.
Here, gameplay has a specific purpose: to teach concepts and skills in a fun way. Educational games cover a wide range of topics, from history to science to mathematics and can be used both in formal settings such as schools and universities and in more informal settings such as companies or one’s own home.
In the case of healthcare, serious games are used to promote healthy behaviours, educate patients, prevent illnesses and train healthcare personnel. Examples are games that help patients cope with diabetes, depression or promote physical activity and mental health.
They are games designed to improve certain soft skills such as leadership, communication and collaboration within an organisation. CEOs, managers or high-level officials often use them to learn interpersonal problem solving and conflict resolution techniques.
They help players developing analytical, problem solving, planning and analysis skills. They are most often used in corporate settings or within administrations, both private and public, to explore complex scenarios and test strategies.
How do serious games work?
Each game has its own peculiarities, but it is however possible to trace a common denominator in interactivity. Interactivity and entertainment, in fact, are basic elements of every ludic product, whether serious or not.
The term “serious” does not connote contexts that bore, but on the contrary games that, without having mere entertainment as their ultimate goal, are able to teach something. In the case of serious games, all multimedia content is used to learn knowledge and keep up to date.
It is true learning by doing, which can also be stimulated by the awarding of scores, virtual prizes, medals and badges (gamification).
In short, a serious game:
Serious game, gamification and game-based learning: differences
A classic mistake is to confuse serious games, gamification and game-based learning. These are related concepts, but let’s go in order: the first aims at education, training and teaching trying to entertain; the second consists of the use of mechanisms typical of gaming and, in particular, of videogames (points, levels, prizes, virtual goods, rankings) to make potential customers more engaged in the services offered; the third represents a form of learning implemented through games (also analogue games) or videogames.
Serious games develop selective attention, allowing strategic choices to be taken and represent an opportunity for a variety of players such as companies, hospitals and public administration (PA).
They often use cartoon techniques and combine play and educational elements. Their aim is to share an educational, effective and enjoyable experience that puts the player and their choices at the centre of everything.
Gamification is mainly aimed at companies, tries to improve their production processes and achieve the following goals:
Game based learning
Game based learning requires the creation of highly complex platforms. We are talking about SCORM and e-learning: the first is a reference model in the world of education; the second, also known as distance learning (DL), is the set of hardware and software technologies aimed at enriching traditional learning processes with innovative formulas.
Game based learning offers a more experiential reward (learning while having fun), gamification more tangible (assigning prizes, scores, awarding badges and gadgets), serious games more formative (acquiring new skills while playing). The common denominator of all three remains the game.
Examples of game-based learning are both escape rooms (analogue games) and serious games themselves (serious video games aimed at learning).
5 examples of serious games
Developed by VITECO for the University of Eastern Piedmont (UEP), REAction S. G. dives you into a single player simulation experience. In a few clicks, you will become a nurse or social worker. You will have to preserve the health of patients and save their lives.
Browse the map, ask the right questions, fill out the paperwork, choose and use the most appropriate care tools, make the call and perform the final debriefing. REAaction S. G. is simple, intuitive and downloadable.
Designed for online learning, REAaction S. G. simulates the professional skills of nurses and social workers, focusing on the health needs of the individual and the community.
Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington’s Game Science faculty and updated in 2020 in coincidence with the COVID-19 pandemic, Foldit is a free puzzle game in which players have the goal of folding protein structures in the most perfect way possible. The aim is to manipulate the three-dimensional structures of proteins to find the ones with the lowest energy.
And if you think having players solve a chemistry puzzle is a bit of a crazy idea, listen this: in 2011, a group of students managed, in less than 10 days, to decipher the crystal structure of Mason-Pfizer (HIV/AIDS) that had remained unsolved for over 15 years.
Thanks to Foldit, the developers were able to put the creativity of thousands of researchers and students at the service of medicine, speeding up time and cutting costs.
Can you recognise real news from fake news? Information Tower is a serious game financed by Google, Altroconsumo and promoted by Skuola.net. The aim is to give Generation Z members innovative tools so that they know how to recognise fake news. The game is very simple: the player is given a series of clues to declare if a news is true or false. Examples of clues are:
Information Tower is also playable from any device with a browser.
Minecraft is a popular open world videogame that allows you to explore virtual locations made up of Lego style blocks and interact with other players. In Minecraft, you can search for raw minerals, craft tools and objects, and build structures. The game, owned by Microsoft since 2014, is available on multiple platforms.
In its educational version, kids can:
Each map is free, but to play you need to buy a copy of the game at a cost of about ten euros. Minecraft is also a good way to spend time with your children.
In the healthcare field, the Apulia Region has financed the game TAKO DOJO, which aims to encourage the correct eating habits of young diabetics and improve their ability to self-manage the disease.
TAKO DOJO is inspired by Japanese tradition and culture that uses tako, small polyps that train in a gymnasium (called, in fact, dojo) to keep blood glucose levels under control.
Other VITECO games
Italian VITECO, the creator of REACtion S.G., has been involved in numerous edutainment projects. Here are more examples of serious games developed by VITECO (click or tap on the links to play them immediately):
How to evaluate the efficacy of a serious game
If you are thinking of developing a serious game, you must first evaluate its potential efficacy. The evaluation should be conducted during both the design and development phases.
This type of analysis aims to gather information and data on the progress of the game and many other aspects such as the quality of the level design, game mechanics, user interaction, etc. in order, of course, to optimise the product and make improvements to the user experience (UX).
Having said that, it is good to carry out various tests and follow these simple steps:
A second type of evaluation is called summative and is used to check the overall efficacy of the game once it has been completed and implemented. To do this type of analysis, one uses:
Finally, the last type of evaluation is called long term. It can only be carried by ex post, when the game has already been enjoyed and is in the hands of the target audience. Thus, one keeps an eye on how the players apply the acquired skills in a real context and the degree of their depth.
The two most frequently used methods for carrying out long term analyses are:
Make your serious game!
If you have made it this far, you will certainly have an idea of what serious games are, which categories they fall into, which are the most popular and which tests to run to check their efficacy. All you need now is a development team to take care of all this and help you realise your serious game! VITECO, a software house belonging to the JO Group cluster of companies, does this since 2004.
If you need a serious game, we will follow you through the entire process, ensuring that the game is as close to your vision as possible and in line with your objectives. For more information or to request a quote on the development of a serious game, please contact us by calling or filling out the contact form below.