Serious Play 2012: “Where the Leaders Discuss the Future of Serious Games”

by Staff Writers

I will be at the Serious Play conference in Redmond , WA this week Tweeting live and micro-blogging about the sessions. Check back on Education Unbound for daily updates or follow along live on Twitter @drjwmarquis.

About the Conference
"Where the Leaders Discuss the Future of Serious Games"

The Serious Play Conference, provides a venue to interact with thought leaders representing some of the best application and research of games and simulations for learning. The speakers this year include leading thinkers, consultants, authors and researchers in the serious games industry as well as individuals who are leading in the creation simulations and games for education, corporate, military, healthcare, and not-for-profit training. The event will feature new research on the market and growth trends for the serious games industry, presentations of the latest in gamification research, and practical examples of strategies for using games for learning.

The 2011 Serious Play Conference is being hosted by the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Clark Aldrich, author and serious games consultant, and game industry veteran Sue Bohle, president of The Bohle Company.

My Itinerary
In order to follow along, here is a breakdown of the sessions that I will be attending (times are PST):

Tuesday, August 21
8:30 a.m. Welcome, Overview of Conference
9 – 9:45 a.m. Ran Hinrichs: "Getting the Best vQuotient"
10 – 11 a.m. Panel: "Are Educational Simulations and Games Becoming a Key Training Method in Large Organizations?"
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Phaedra Boinodiris, IBM: "Evolving Serious Games beyond Training"
1:30 – 2:15 p.m. Andrew Phelps, Rochester Institute of Technology: "Games and What They Teach Us About Creative Culture"
2:30 – 3:15 p.m. Douglas Whatley, BreakAway Games: "Why Don't We Teach More with Games?"
4 – 4:45 p.m. Andrew Miller, Edutopia: "Game-based Learning as Education Reform"
5 – 5:45 p.m. Ross Kukulinski, Advanced Simulation Technology: "Serious Communication for Serious Games"

Wednesday, August 22
8:30 a.m. Welcome and Announcements
8:45 – 9:45 a.m. Morning Panel: Sizing the Potential Market
10 – 10:45 a.m. Michael Cai, Interpret: "Serious Games, Serious Play" Research Study: "Where Are the Opportunities?"
11 – 11:45 a.m. Heidi J. Boisvert, futurePerfect lab: "Moving Players Beyond Clicktavism"
1 – 2 p.m. Afternoon Panel: "The Challenges of Measuring Game Effectiveness"
2:15 – 3 p.m.: Eva Baker, CRESST at UCLA: "Serious Measurement, Serious Results"
3:30 – 4:15 p.m. Lester Frederick and/or Chris Keeling, Full Sail University: "Fun-Learning: The Design and Development of an EduGame"
4:30 – 5:15 p.m. David Gibson, simSchool: "Leveraging Data from Serious Play with Events, Attributes and Badges"

The complete event program is available online at

Session Sumamry: Ran Hinrichs: "Getting the Best vQuotient"

This was a very interesting, insightful, and forward thinking session by 2B3D CEO Ran Hinrichs about what virtual intelligence quotient (VIQ) is and why it is important. The main takeaway was that being aware of the way real people act in virtual spaces and react to interactions with others in virtual spaces is a serious field of study that needs real academic attention. Hinrichs even mentioned that he is working on developing a course on "avatar psychology" for the University of Washington.

Other important takeaways from the session are that surface computing (basically, that everything will have an IP address and sensors, so everything is interactive), and convergence of technology are issues that require attention to make sure that efforts build on one another rather than replicate each other.

My own take on the session is that Hinrichs' focus on gathering empirical data on what he is studying is very important. He is actively creating and conducting the research to support and guide his development at the same time he is innovating. Also, I see the concept of VIQ as one of literacy. We need to understand virtual interactions as a part of our overall literacy in the Information Age and actively work to support its development in students.

One question though, what is the environmental impact of this projected proliferation of sensors and connected everything? Are we increasing the footprint of everything beyond our means to support it?

Session Summary: Andrew Phelps, Rochester Institute of Technology: "Games and What They Teach Us About Creative Culture"

This was an off the wall presentation by Andy Phelps from RIT's School of Interactive Games and Media where hew was outlining the areas that he is planning to conduct research in during the next several years. The core of what he is looking at is the ability of games to teach creativity.

The basic plan is to look at groups who do innovative things withing games that allow them to function outside the designed rules of the environment. One example was "rocket jumping" in Quake, where players could complete level much more quickly by firing rocket launchers at their feet. Another example was how players will create weak characters to scout new areas or as recon in MMOGs.

A couple questions brought up during the session: Should the purpose of games be to teach innovative thinking? And what would games that specifically do that look like? And is there a way to assess the effectiveness of games for teaching these skills? No real answers to these questions in the session, but worthy of future consideration on Education Unbound.

 Session Summary: Douglas Whatley, BreakAway Games: "Why Don't We Teach More with Games?"

Why are games acceptable for training someone for a job but not for education? Could it be because education is more about inspiring learners than it is about acquiring specific skills/competencies?

An interesting take on the idea which highlights the goes against the ideas of teacher accountability, standardized assessments, and core curriculum? It is my belief that our education system teaches standardized skills and games would break us out of that box. There would seem to be a fundamental disconnect between what games are and what the purpose of play is. If, as Andy Phelps pointed out in the previous session, the point of games is to foster creativity, then they would seem to be a perfect match for education. So the question remains, why aren't games used more in education?

For starters, according to Whatley, no single game can reach every student. There are many different learning styles, and one game style cannot fit all of their learning needs. Implementing games in education becomes a big challenge because of the difficulty in meeting the needs of every learner. 

Look for future reflection on this idea. Are games a real solution for education? Do we need to hit every learner in the same way? In the Information Age, education should be drastically individualized. So games only need to work for some learners.

Session Summary: Panel: Sizing the Potential Market

Tyson Greer/Sam S. Adkins, Ambient Insight: "Mobil Games, Education"
Burnes Hollyman, Digital Entertainment Alliance: "Virtual Worlds" 
Michael Cai, Interpret: "Corporate Training, Govt/Military"

Interesting session about the size and potential of the games for education market. The number one insights were that the future is in mobile games and smaller, casual-style games. The monetization model for all of these is, however, problematic. The specific issue was with how the "freemium" model is impacting developers' ability to produce games and how the micro-transaction model effects the Digital Divide. Particularly students who are on the lower economic end.

One other insight was about how or if game developers will be able to shift to education if the market shifts in their favor? My question is: why do they need to shift? There would appear to be plenty of room for new companies to focus specifically on GBL. Given that I'm sitting at the DigiPen campus for this event and mingling with people from Full Sail, I would say that the bodies are there to make the move as well.

Session Summary: Lisa Galarneau, Anthropologist/Writer: "Serious Learning in Entertainment Spaces"

This session went against the grain of some of the earlier sessions in which a more focused approach was taken to aligning specific learning outcomes to designed educational or training experiences. Galarneau's focus was on what can be learned in entertainment games, particularly MMPG. One of her insights was that collaborative skills and problem solving are two 21st Century Skills that readily emerge in these environments.

While Galarneau was not focused on designing for this kind of learning, as an anthropologist, she reported that it does happen, and happens well. Quoting Christopher Deed, a 21st century skills researcher, games like City of Heroes teach players to Thrive on Chaos. The concept is that, because our world changes so rapidly, that we must constantly adapt. Games and the constant challenge of well-designed games teach people how to adapt to rapid fire change.

Whether this is a skill that can be measured and presented as a viable commodity for learning remains to be seen. The concept is good, but there will need to be a measurable outcome if "thriving on chaos" is to become an academic skill.

Conference Summary

I'm back home today after an interesting and enlightening time at Serious Play. Overall, this was a timely event that brought together leaders in the gaming industry with individuals interested in educational games and a limited number of actual educators. In the future, if GBL is to become a reality, events like this will need to draw a larger number of educators from both K-12 and higher ed. The venue represents an excellent opportunity for collaboration that would help to better align the serious games movement with the needs and objectives of practicing educators and educational researchers.

One of the noticeable problems with the current balance of participants is that the shortage of education leadership in attendance leaves a void regarding what the desired purpose of serious games is. Andrew Miller (@betamiller), a former classroom teacher and current Edutopia blogger, was one of the few speakers in attendance who represented the perspective of the practicing classroom educator, and his presentation, "Game-based Learning as Education Reform," will be the subject of a longer forthcoming post on Education Unbound.

For me personally, the conference provided an opportunity to talk with actual game developers about how serious games can gain more acceptance in education, and what games that support the development and assessment of 21st century skills would look like. These conversations will provide the inspiration for another post in the near future that examines what serious games can teach, how they can be aligned with curricular standards, and how their efficacy should be measured.

In the long term, I think that I cultivated some relationships at the event that will allow me to collaborate with game developers to push the serious games movement in a way that will help it align with the real needs of education. If that can happen, I would have to call this an extremely successful event.