The benefits of serious games

1.       They are engaging

This is probably the most common argument you might hear if you are looking into Serious Games. Everyone in the industry screams this out of the top of their lungs, but that’s because it’s true. You may think Serious Games will only appeal to the young, to the gamers, but actually cleverly designed solutions should appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds regardless of whether they have played games before or not.

And here’s why! A well-crafted Serious Game will give the user something to care about; an objective that they want to achieve. An objective that is relevant to the business or situation that user currently finds themselves in. A Serious Games designer will tap into the motivations of the user and make them central to the story.

Games also present information as nested problems, they will give the user an objective but the user has to actively get involved with the scenario to work out how to achieve the objective.

Serious Games also utilise interesting characters and reward loops to keep you pushing forward. Users will start to buy in to the scenario and become emotionally invested in seeing it through.

2.       They are a ‘safe environment’

Do most learners have a place they can go and practice their skills in a realistic environment? Unfortunately unless you are a pilot or a nuclear technician the answer will most likely be no.  Most businesses won’t have a simulated business with real people and market data just there for their staff to practice on. Serious Games can be the missing link between knowledge and practical application on the job.

Therefore Serious Games can allow users to practice the skills or methodologies they have read about or go ‘off-piste’ with their own strategy and actually see the consequences of their actions without any impact to the business. In fact this practice in a virtual environment will benefit the business greatly by reducing the number of mistakes your staff will make in the real world. 

3.       They work according to the laws of learning

Serious Games are designed to hook us in and appeal to our brain; their designs are mapped to how we intrinsically learn. As the main purpose of a Serious Game is to develop new knowledge, skills and to ultimately produce a behaviour change they have to align with how we learn.

We base our designs around the Laws of Learning which can be seen illustrated in the infographic below. This is quite a complicated subject so let’s examine one of the basic premises of learning. Looking back in time, we hear throughout every culture on earth, the process of telling stories to pass knowledge down to new generations. Stories create emotional connections which increase the likelihood of retention. In today’s society we use stories for leisure, books, movies and games, and they all appeal to us through clever use of narrative, characterisation and the epic challenge, but they are rarely present when it comes to learning.

Now the difference between reading an educational book or watching an educational movie and playing an educational game is that you, the player, the protagonist takes control, all the action revolves around you. You make the choices, the consequences happen to you and because the choices are wrapped up in a story in which you want to succeed you create an even stronger emotional connection to those actions. We even exhibit physiological responses when we fail in games, it feels so real sometimes that our brains can’t tell the difference on the most basic biological level.

Because you are placed at the centre of the action, you learn at your own pace. You don’t have to keep up with 25 others who have other jobs they have to get back to. You evaluate your actions in your own time. You can fail as many times as is necessary to grasp the solution.

This ability to learn at your own rate is down to the use of pacing in the design of these interventions. When designing an e-learning course for example there is a specific amount of content, a set number of screens, a set number of words per screen, some audio, animation  and if you’re lucky multiple choice questions to add some variety. However in a serious game the content is indistinguishable from the actions and choices you have to make, therefore you will only progress and succeed once you have mastered the knowledge. The content is paced in a careful way to ensure you understand, not just remember, but truly understand before continuing. Because you understand, new information stands out to you; you are able to pull on information stored in your long term memory and not just your working memory to solve problems.

4.       They are re-usable

 A Serious Game should not be judged on how many learners complete the game but on how learners re-use the application. Serious Games by their very nature are designed to be played several times. They are generally non-linear and allow a learner to explore different paths and different consequences. This results in learners building a well-rounded view of a situation or problem.

From the games we host ourselves we know users play our games on average 4.3 times. This replay is reinforcing learning and through the use of scoring we can see that learners are getting better the more they play.

Serious Games can also be very flexible; you can use them in many ways. You can apply a context to the learning experience and ask your learners to focus on different learning objectives or to play in a certain way with a certain mind-set for example. Or you can apply the same application to different stages of the learning lifecycle, as a precursor to a course and as a refresher 6 months down the line for example.

5.       You can roll specialist knowledge out to a wider audience

Serious games are great for taking complex topics like six sigma for example, that have traditionally been part of an intensive classroom course (which could be expensive to roll out to a whole organisation) and turning it into a case study game so that the learning can be accessed by a wider audience. Yes they train to a lower level but at least they will begin to understand the same lessons that your senior management are learning ensuring your organisation from top to bottom are speaking the same language.

6.       They are cost effective

Cost effectiveness of Serious Games is reached because of some of the reasons I’ve already discussed. Firstly they can be re-used many times per learner and across the organisation in different contexts and they can take complex content and reach a wider audience ensuring your message is heard by everyone in the organisation.

OK so there may be an up front development cost but if a Serious Game is built correctly they can be modified and tweaked for years to ensure they are kept up to date.

7.       You can capture data!

Because you’re making lots (and I mean lots!) of decisions in a game, and those decisions are very telling about your thought process, you can capture the journey to a particular point as well as that final end result.  Imagine if you received all of that data from everyone in your leadership team, your middle managers or your entire organisation. You could map the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation and create and informed strategy for how to address them or go down to the level of the individual learner and begin to create a truly personalised learning plan based on their actual performance (which can be measured through situational judgement games for example).

8.       They are expected

Serious Games and Interactive learning applications are reaching a stage where new hires will expect them. Companies who use these approaches are often seen as progressive in terms of their learning and development and will attract the top talent. These methodologies will also help retain talent by ensuring your in house learning and development is enjoyable and your employees want to keep learning.

9.       They complement other forms of learning

As I mentioned in number 2, games can be the missing link in your learning and development tool kit – you need a knowledge piece, you still need on the job training , reinforces etc., and Serious Games compliment these other forms of learning brilliantly.

A new study by MIT has revealed that your attention levels are lower in a lecture than when you are asleep and the new generation of workers as well as those already in your organisation are looking for new ways to learn. A single method or non-interactive method of learning delivery just doesn’t cut it anymore. More than likely they’ve already started learning outside of work, using MOOC’s or YouTube.

Serious Games are just one aspect you should consider as part of your digital learning strategy.

10.   Because they work!

Recent research by Sitzmann and Ely titled “A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Effectiveness of Computer-Based Simulation Games” By the University of Colorado Denver Business School (Oct 2010), looked at the instructional effectiveness of Computer Based Simulation Games relative to a comparison group, on a comprehensive set of training outcomes, particularly focusing on the post-training outcomes. Data was collected from 6,476 participants ranging from students (undergraduate and graduate), employees through to military personnel. Sitzmann found that self-efficacy; declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and retention results suggest that training outcomes are superior for trainees taught with simulation games relative to the comparison group.

Overall, declarative knowledge was 11% higher for trainees taught with simulation games than a comparison group; procedural knowledge was 14% higher; retention was 9% higher; retention was 9% higher; and self-efficacy was 20% higher. (Ely and Sitzmann findings, 2010)


If you want to talk more about my top 10 or to suggest others I’ve missed tweet me on @helenroutledge