Overall, the majority of the collected SGs are games for Heritage (48 at the beginning of September 2012) and can be classified in the categories of our working taxonomy as follows:
The biggest share (44%) is taken by historical reconstruction (both as a reconstruction of a site or of a civilization of the past and as the recreation of a specific event, process or historical period). SGs about artistic/archaeological or intangible inheritance of the past represent the 19%. Latest games deal with virtual or augmented visit of cities (17%) and just a few concentrate of cultural awareness (10%).
The most common genres are (still) quiz/puzzles, which can be successful means to raise awareness in CH topics (e.g. for advertising real museum exhibitions through web sites) but whose educational power is questionable. On the other hand, puzzles are the basic mechanics for the more and more popular tourism games, usually in the form of treasure hunts in museums, cities of art, archaeological sites.
Adventures (in real 3D environments as well as point and click adventures in Flash) fully implement the constructivist approach and as such should maximize the cognitive learning impact. Historical reconstruction of ancient sites and societies usually use 3D world adventures, because offer an immersive feeling where the player can appreciate the landscape and architecture as they were in the past (e.g. in Roma Nova).
Reconstruction of specific events or time periods also rely on point and click adventures where the feeling of immersion is lost – the focus is more on behaviours and sequences of events; however, the game maintains the learning by doing effect (see for instance [Signets of Power]). Moreover, the Flash technology is suited for on-line consumption (even if the advent of Unity Web Player and alike give wider access to 3D worlds over the browser as well). Simulation / strategy games are effective in experiencing first hand a specific condition or situation. For instance the High Tea game has proven to surprise the player about Britain’s involvement in opium trading [Birchall et al 2011]; [The Battle of Waterloo], though not very fruitful from a strictly educational point of view, effectively transmits the difficulty of directing troops at war, having to face the consequences of one’s decisions including death of soldiers and friends.
Game deployment seems to be increasingly on-line (on the browser) or on mobile devices (especially for augmented visits). Games for exhibitions (e.g. museums) are either for mobile or use specific hardware (e.g. Multi-touch rocks, for multi-touch table [Seidl et al 2011]).
As anticipated, games for heritage are more and more deployed on-line, either as point and click (in Flash) or as fully 3D adventures, thanks to specific plug-ins. Moreover, the popularity of smart phones and tablets is raising the number of serious applications for tourism or exhibitions/sites visits.
A big opportunity in tourism applications is the integration with Google Earth, already the playing arena for lots of games. Most of the free Google Earth games are based on the geographic power that Google Earth brings to browsers and desktops: geography quizzes, flight and ship simulators, races, and commercial games like Grand Theft Auto. We are aware of no serious game exploiting this detailed virtual version of the real Earth for tourism and cultural applications.
Still too many games use the paradigm of quiz/puzzle, which is questionable from the point of view of the learning impact. Concerning the educational content of games, there is much cognitive and some affective value in games for humanities and heritage. Still, the few games accompanied by an evaluation study of the learning impact are usually limited to punctual knowledge gain assessed by questionnaires, typically pre- post questionnaires using the same set of questions. No evaluation has been found concerning the expected longer term retention provoked by Serious Games (especially adventures) with respect to traditional means. More comprehensive studies including the affective impact should be carried out, and the specific impact with respect to different levels of cognitive and affective gain (e.g. following the Bloom’s taxonomy) should be devised starting from the specific educational goals of serious games.
[Birchall et al 2011] D. Birchall, M. Henson “High Tea Evaluation report” Wellcome trust, 2011. http://museumgames.pbworks.com/w/file/44614076/HighTeaEvaluationReport.pdf
[Seidl et al. 2011] Seidl M., Judimaier P., Baker F., Chippindale C., Egger U. Jan N., Weis C, Grubinger M, Seidl G. “Multi-touch Rocks: Playing with tangible Virtual Heritage in the Museum – first user tests”. In VAST11: The International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Intelligent Cultural Heritage – Short and Project papers, Eurographics Association, Prato, Italy, 73-76. 2011.
[Signets of Power] http://static.magtenssegl.dk/static/index.html?language=english
[The Battle of Waterloo] http://www.bbc.co.uk//history/british/empire_seapower/launch_gms_battle_waterloo.shtml