Immersive learning for people in aid

Last week we led a workshop on Serious Games, for People In Aid.  Established by agencies in the humanitarian and development sector in 1995, People In Aid are a not-for-profit membership organisation, governed by its members whose experiences and HR practices help to improve organisational effectiveness within the sector.

We were grateful to PIA for their forward thinking and innovative approach in laying on a workshop that was so different to the norm. We were looking forward to exploring whether there could be any possibilities of working with any of the attendees, as although historically we have specialised in games for the corporate sector, it is a personal goal for all of us at Team Totem to develop a game for the third sector.

The attendees comprised of members from Learning and Development and our main intention was to give them a broad introduction into why games work for learning, some arguments for games ‘coming of age’ and show them a few examples so that they could be informed and have another option to consider in their toolbox.

Our attendees remained extremely open minded throughout the presentation and workshop, despite there being very few self-confessed gamers amongst them and despite raising some good points around what they considered might be barriers to their adoption of serious games. Barriers included a prohibitive cost for the smaller charities and reservations about the suitability of games for the demographic of their staff.

On the other hand, it was clear that there were areas in which simulations and serious games could add real value, for example in the areas of disaster relief management and testing for resilience in field workers, as well as externally: to raise awareness of issues and assist with fundraising.

People In Aid are evidently doing a fantastic job, together with their members in striving for and maintaining a high standard of training, but I think that some of the virtual reality solutions that we discussed provoked thought and excitement about how training could move on to the next level.

It also emerged that a game that simultaneously addressed a common training need amongst the members could be a viable collaboration – thus diminishing the cost barrier. Extending the collaboration to the corporate sector could enhance a training product by adding a real world issue as context -if this were sensitively designed.

For those that were concerned about how a game might be received by staff who are not interested in, perhaps even opposed to computer games, this is a very valid point. Usually much care is taken at the design stage to build this in so that the fact that the game is delivered via a computer becomes unimportant and the game itself – or more importantly its relevance and benefit to the learner, is the focus.

When considering games for the third sector, it is impossible not to think of game designer Jane McGonigal whose philosophy around using multiplayer gaming and its ability to harness collective intelligence for a greater good is so inspiring – her TED talk is worth listening to.

Jane is also on the board of directors of Games for Change, Founded in 2004, it facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. There are many games on the website that can be played free of charge and deliver high impact learning.