Serious Games – What’s in a Word?

I presented a paper at the recent Serious Games Development and Application conference in September 2012 in Bremen. The paper presented the results of our survey in the UK of training and human resources (HR) managers’ awareness of the term Serious Games.There was some discussion on whether it would have been better to have used other terms to describe serious games – like simulation games, or even to have phoned people to explain to them what a serious game was… I pointed out that we explicitly wanted to measure whether HR and training managers had heard of the term serious games. The term serious games is a recent one (coined by Zyda in 2002) and has developed some momentum – many people are using it. It has become expecially popular in the IT and computer science community. However, the tradition of uisng game based learning methods in business and management education and industry has a long history – going back to the table top exercises of Lillian Gilbreth in the 1920s. Various names have been used for games over the years. The most popular names have been business games and business simulations – whcih were expecially popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Even up until 2002/2003 commercial promoters were organising workshops on business simulations (at whcih Marc Prensky was an invited speaker). So the question is what name should we use for serious games? You may say that it depends on the audience and that in the business and corporate context we should use the ‘old’ names – business games/simulations. However, when it come to the adoption of innovations (serious games being an innovation), there needs to develop a momentum and bandwagon effect, whereby new potential users hear about the innovation from early adopters and then from everyone – a kind of why aren’t you using serious games discussion happens and poetntial users adopt the innovation. This happened with quality management and especially ISO9000 and recently with environmental management ISO14000. Comapnies were ‘forced’ to adopt the standards, paying consultants to get certified, simply to remain competitive and not lose business becuase they weren’t certified. So the interest and enthusiasm of computer science and IT developers for something new – serious games – will help to bulid a bandwagon effect and encourage potential users to adopt them. So it is important to use the term Serious Games when talking about game based leanring and to promote their use to companies and public sector organisations.

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