Serious Games and Decision Makers: what`s up?

Decision Making process is very critical in many contexts, like Healthcare, Environment, Industry and Business and Defense and Security as well. Obviously, decision making may be improved through training and serious games are a new emerging sector with a lot of innovative applications, continuously proposed to the different communities. Therefore several scientific researches have been conducted along the last years on this subject, as well funded projects and also several products and tools have been developed (Abt C.C., 2002; Bergeron B, 2006; Iuppa N, Borst T 2006).

A survey has been recently developed related to applications of Serious Games for supporting and educating the decision making process, crisis management and the development of communication and negotiating skills.

Training of strategic decisions in collaborative networks through serious games (Kracke R.; Hauge J. B.; Duin H.; et al.2006) was investigated in order to consider how they can be used to mediate experience in management and strategic decision making. The game is based on a virtual multi stakeholder environment, where trainees can experiment with new ideas without risk and effects on the real life. Europe 2045 (Sisler V.; Brom C. 2008) is a preliminary theoretical framework, which has been adopted in designing an on-line multi-player strategy game as educational tool for high school social science courses, aimed at familiarizing students with political, economic, and social issues in contemporary Europe. Apart from learning facts, players develop a range of key skills: discussion ability, negotiation, teamwork, and group decision-making. This theoretical framework is based on a critical analysis of crucial issues, which seem to determine the success or failure of development and implementation of an educational

game in the formal school environment.

A Research on a Serious Game on sustainable civilizations and trading zones (Gorman M., 2009) was completed in order to teach what parameters sustain a civilization in an environment where emerging technologies can have a progressive and/or disruptive effect; two games were developed; first one, Nanosim, a game in which participants play different roles: Congress, Regulatory agencies, Funding agencies like DARPA and NSF and NIH, Companies like IBM and entrepreneurial start-ups, University laboratories, NGOs like the Project on Emerging Technologies and

ETC, A newspaper that reports to all the other groups. Second Game is ESEM, developed as evolution of Civ

IV Game, where participants will have the option to form trade, form alliances or go to war, and will gradually see that their local decisions affect the global environment, in terms of climate change and resources.

There is also a multiplayer web game (SIBILLA) for teaching classes on communication and coordination in different contents such as Intelligence and Homeland Security and Strategic Decision Making obtaining interesting results (Bruzzone A.G., Massei M., Tremori A., 2009); the approach allows even to investigate the impact of different cultural and educational background on team-working within cooperative and competitive frameworks.

Another game to be considered is Peacemaker: a commercial game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict designed to promote “dialog and understanding among Israelis, Palestinians and interested people around the world”. There is also A Force More Powerful designed to teach the waging of conflict using non-violent methods; it is intended for use by activists and leaders of non-violent resistance and opposition movements.

With specific attention to Crisis Management there are several ongoing studies, projects, tools and Information Technologies (ITs) in support of Education & Training (E&T) such as MACSIM for Crisis Management (Benjamins T.; Rothkrantz L. J. M., 2006) :a research on the development of a serious game for crisis management composed by different modules. In this case agents are used in order to support the background decision making processes. There are also other works such as Training for emergency management: tactical decision games (Crichton M. Flin R., 2001). Training of the nontechnical skills that are crucial to effective management of emergency situations is an issue that is currently receiving increasing emphasis in the petrochemical sector. A case study is presented of the explosion and fires at the Texaco Refinery, Milford Haven, UK, which occurred in July 1994 (HSE, The explosion and fires at the Texaco Refinery, Milford Haven, 24 July 1994. HSE: London, 1997), with particular focus on the human factors aspects of the event. A key issue identified by the official report into this incident was the importance of emergency management training. This paper outlines a novel, low-fidelity training intervention, the tactical decision game (TDG), which is designed to enhance the non-technical skills (decision making, situation awareness, communication and co-ordination, teamwork, and stress management) required for emergency management. It is proposed that enhanced learning of these non-technical skills, through experience and directed practice following repeated exposure to TDGs, will lead to more efficient emergency management, particularly when dealing with hazardous materials.

In this thematic area, as tools and platforms, it is possible to cite the ICONS project, developed by the University of Maryland: it is a training organization that offers skills-based training programs incorporating multi-player, real-time simulation exercises as a way for individuals, teams, and organizations to enhance effectiveness. The training is conducted either face-to face or through customized web-based communication system, that is ICONSnet which provide a designed online distributed role-play simulations. There are also several samples of researches to develop other kind of soft skills like developing glance capabilities for soldiers and officers or negotiation and communication skills. In this area we can cite researches like Games on Urban Road Pricing as support to investigate behavior in a non-experienced future (Raux C.; Andan O.; Godinot C., 1994): this research deals with gaming-simulation applied to dirvers to investigate their capability to adapt their behaviour to evolving scenarios and policies.

Negotiation Skills by using on-line business games (Greco M.; Murgia G., 2007), where investigated by considering to adopt web multiplayer business games. In fact multiplayer technology allows a deeper learning, favours a greater commitment of the students and allows a continuous comparison between users boosting competition, fun and commitment through a more realistic approach.

Additional researches were conducted in the influence of interface for teaching negotiation and communication skills (Lane H. C.; Hays M.J.; Auerbach D.; et al., 2010); these researches allowed to investigate the role of presence in a serious game for intercultural communication and negotiation skills by comparing two interfaces: a 3D version with animated virtual humans and sound against a 2D version using text-only interactions with static images and no sound. Recently the authors have worked on some innovative applications of Serious Games to develop specific skills like contextual learning (Tremori A., Baisini C., Bruzzone A.G., et al., 2012). This study suggests an alternative approach to develop the necessary competences to handle decision making in complex environments, stemming from the challenges that the military has faced in the past ten years of conflicts. However, the authors believe, the ideas suggested here can be employed and benefit any other field requiring agile and adaptive thinking (Baisini et al. 2009, 2010). The conflicts in which our Armed Forces are engaged are largely characterized by Interactive Complexity: the system is nonlinear, its proportions unstable and cause/effect patterns ambiguous. Large civilian presence and involvement, difficulties in identifying possible threats, high tempo, and dense terrain are typical features of the so called “three block war”, introduced by Gen Krulak (Krulak Gen , C., 1999), which requires the capability of making a broad range of decisions in little or no time at the micro tactical level. In order to obtain optimal situational awareness, it is necessary to provide the necessary skill set (not tools, not rules) that allows to ‘read’ the operational environment and understand its regulating rules, rather than applying frames of reference that are derived from the Domestic environment. The capability of learning from the Context, stretching the dominant mental models and transcend the obvious is crucial. The analysis suggests that visual orientation can be an important feature for a group leader especially in urban scenarios; what one sees and how he interprets this can be decisive (Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R.,1975; Klein, G. 1998-2007).

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