08/24/2015 | By Roger Christman
When one thinks of game development today as a career field, a typical first image is that of someone who will be sitting at a robust machine kicking out the next Halo, FIFA, Angry Birds or any of the thousands of entertainment-oriented games on the market. And, indeed, entertainment-focused gaming is one part of this fast growing career field. There will always be a need for entertainment-based gaming; however, this is only part of the picture. The ever-growing need in our society for enhanced technology has engendered a significant expansion in the gaming industry, which has led to the concept of serious gaming. Ultimately, serious gaming will be a much larger industry than the current $12 billion a year entertainment gaming business. What is serious gaming and how is it a career of the future?
Serious gaming is focused on user/player outcomes. These outcomes often are for new or reinforced learning. The military, airline and medical industries have been using serious gaming for a couple decades now. Soldiers, before they are sent into harm’s way, are exposed to simulated battlefield conditions in training simulators repeatedly. They are being trained in a safe simulated battlefield environment while learning about many of the hazards of war. The clear intention of the military use of serious gaming is to produce outcomes that are very real — to reduce the number of casualties and lessen combat-related wounds, all while increasing mission success. Similarly, airline pilots log hundreds of hours in simulators, and surgeons practice in a computer-based 3D environment before graduating onto pigs and eventually humans. Outcome-based experiential training is very effective. We learn best by doing. When we learn in a safe environment with minimized consequences, failure is an option. Often we can learn best by experiencing failure.
Here is a personal example of how gaming provided the necessary expertise to accomplish a goal. My family and I were vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We decided we would rent a boat for a day and cruise along some of the Intercostal waterway. I went to the dock to pick up the boat with my then 14-year-old son. The boat rental operator said, “let me take you out for a few minutes to show you the proper directions so you don’t get grounded.” I replied, “Great, that would be helpful.” We went out for few minutes and he showed me the proper channels to take. Then he said, “You take the controls; I want you drive up to that pylon, stop just in front of it and then reverse straight back.” I was being tested. I had been boating a little with friends over the years, so I was confident I could do what I thought was a simple task. I was wrong. I tried nine times. Each time I would either under steer or over steer when backing up. The guy said, “Look, I am sorry, but I can’t rent you this boat; you are not going to be able to dock it in a crowded marina.” My son, who was just sitting at the back of the boat watching his Dad fail time after time, spoke up and asked, “Could I try”? The boatman replied, “Yes, it does not matter who is at the wheel as long as they could be safe operating this maneuver.” My son did it on the first try, so of course I said, “That was just luck – do it again.” He did it five more times, perfectly. I asked, “Son, did you take boating classes at summer camp”? He replied, “No, this is just like my driving video game and I have played it a hundred times.” Wow, although humbling, it was an extremely powerful realization. My son’s experience playing video games provided him the skills needed to maneuver the boat successfully in a real would environment with strong currents and brisk wind complicating the task. I was convinced of the power of gaming.
Serious gaming will take on an increasingly significant role in our society. With the integration of dramatic advances in technologies such as virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence, the power of this vast tool of serious gaming will dramatically enhance learning outcomes. The non-linear storytelling aspect of gaming, along with decision science, cause and effect modules, and safe consequences, will make simulated learning a more real and a more necessary part of human development and training. We will need thousands if not tens of thousands of recruits to fulfill the staffing needs of private and governmental organizations increasingly reliant on serious gaming.
Imagine the possibilities. Some are already here. Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Ford Motor Co. and General Electric are investing billions of dollars in serious games development. IBM has created virtual worlds for clients to learn of the implications, consequences, and benefits of decisions well before physical implementation. One example of IBM’s serious gaming technology is used in municipal infrastructure planning. Roadways, water treatment facilities or city parks are being analyzed, redesigned and evaluated by city planners and engineers using serious gaming, saving considerable time and money. We are in the infancy of leveraging gaming to help transition us into a safer, more productive, effective and efficient future.
Here at William Peace University, our stated mission is to prepare our students for careers of tomorrow. The Simulation and Game Design major fits our mission perfectly. In this increasingly technology-based world, we are providing our students with the foundation and experiences required and preparing them for the rapidly expanding role of serious gaming. This semester, for example, we partnered with Duke University’s Medical School where students worked alongside a team with medical education specialists, doctors and actors to create a simulation of patients displaying early signs of a stroke using our Motion Capture System. The purpose of this teaching module is for doctors and nurses to be able to diagnose more quickly and effectively the early signs of a patient having stroke symptoms. When I use the term serious gaming, this is a great example of what I mean. Strokes are the number five cause of death and the leading cause of serious disabilities of Americans. This “game” will help produce outcomes that literally save lives.
We will need career professionals that have the tools and experience to maximize the power of serious gaming. The serious gaming industry will need a talented workforce who has the skills and knowledge in design, programming, game theory and management. They must value collaboration, have critical thinking capabilities and be rooted in the Liberal Arts. The productive employee of the future will be one who can adapt to whatever is coming at him or her. It is a good thing that so many of our students are being prepared by playing and learning from video games. Hopefully some will pursue gaming as a career — our society needs them.