Serious games: learning through playing

Jeenny Stanley, MD at Appetite Creative, looks at the role and value of serious games. 

Games that are intended to offer more than just entertainment are called serious games. They are used to promote learning and behaviour change. Serious gaming is used in various fields, such as education, healthcare, marketing and other businesses and industries. The strength of serious games is that they are entertaining, engaging and immersive. Serious games combine learning strategies, knowledge and structures with game elements to teach specific skills, information and attitudes. They include challenges and rewards for solving different problems. Here, the entertainment and engagement components help to connect with users on a deeper level as they play.

These games are used in many different areas as they can be applied to many problems and challenges. Serious games are an effective tool for the following reasons:

  • They increase engagement and immersion: The player gets the motivation to keep on playing by how games are designed, for example, by using rewards, story progression or other feedback systems.
  • They also offer a safe space to experiment: In reality, actions always have consequences. In games, the player does not have to worry about any damage.
  • Positive emotions improve learning: Students learn better when they have fun.

But how do they work?
Here are four elements that you can find in most games: 

  • Interactivity
    In order to overcome challenges most of the time, a player has to make decisions and take different actions. In contrast to books or films, the player can interact with the content. This allows them to experiment and play with different outcomes of their actions. Humans learn by interacting and experimenting with the objects around them.
  • The metaphor
    A metaphor can help illustrate complex topics. Games also use them. A context for the actions and decisions a player has to make. The story and setting of a game are also practical tools to create an intense experience for the player. Players are more connected to the characters in fun environments that make them care about their outcome and story. In addition, the story and setting of a game go a long way to increase player engagement, immersion and retention.
  • Progression and feedback
    An essential aspect of learning is that the task set is appropriate to the learner´s current skill level. Games use different progression systems to engage and retain players of all ability levels. For example, most games have a difficulty setting. Challenges are also efficient, releasing endorphins that make the player feel better when they accomplish them. Players want to keep playing to maintain the endorphin release, so a balanced game progression is key to mantain their attention.
  • Social aspect
    Learning in groups is more effective than learning alone. The opportunity to play or compete with other players is one of the popular current motivations for people to play and continue playing games for prolonged periods of time. Interaction creates unpredictable situations, which can lead to exciting challenges or funny problems. It improves learning and engagement.

Serious games examples
The Microsoft Flight Simulator (1982) is one of the first existing serious games. This flight simulation was designed for civil aviation.

Another example is the game Pulse!! which reproduces the conditions of an emergency ward in a hospital. Nurses can practice all they learnt in their theoretical classes and gain experience handling real situations. The aim of the gamers is to identify the problem of each patient, giving priority to the most serious cases and taking the appropriate measures depending on the persons condition.

There is an educational edition of Minecraft, because Minecraft itself has such a wide range of mechanisms and dynamics to offer. Since Minecraft is a sandbox game which is made for the users to create anything they can imagine and offer them as many tools as they need, it has had all sorts of applications to build future-ready skills such as creativity, problem-solving or systems thinking.

If you want to read more about games that are more than just entertainment, here is an interesting article about P2E games that you can download for free.

Would you like to create a serious game to engage with your customers or the improve the relationship of your employees? Contact us today and ask for our game development team.