Serious Games Summit: Day 2

The second day of the Serious Games Summit was no less engaging than
the first, though mercifully a bit briefer. (My brain was pretty much
full by the end of yesterday, and a decent night’s sleep didn’t
totally solve that problem.) Here are a summary of the sessions I
attended, and what I got out of them:


Delivered by Dave Warner, who has evidently been involved in a
variety of interesting projects, but presented them with such great
rapidity and deficient diction that I gave up on taking notes before
too long. Highlights included some interesting visualization of
military and humanitarian data, remote sensor arrays, a visit to
Burning Man, and efficacious videogame-based Physical Therapy.

Bulding Civic Cyberspace: Democracy Island

In this presentation, Kerry Paffendorf focused on some prototype work
being done on democracy in virtual worlds using our favorite online
environment, Second Life. The project is funded (rather unexpectedly)
by a grant from the Department of Transportation, which is interested
in using it to gather input on proposed DoT policies. (There is
concern that in the Real World, people have a difficult time getting
engaged politically, as they often don’t know where to go or when
important decisions are being made. The DoT is interested in
determining whether these gaps can be bridged using technology.) The
project is still in the early phases, with a half-dozen law students
participating in discussion, exploration, and tool-building. Kerry
also mentioned a few tools that might be of interest to those of us
exploring SL for instructional purposes: “mixed-reality” lectures
that he’s helped put on, in which a real-world event is streamed into
a SL simulacrum of the building where the event is actually being
held, and ROAM, an SL search engine which crawls the gameworld and
indexes objects and regions by name and owner.

While the content of the presentation was a bit thin, I was pleased
to actually track down several people I’d met in Second Life already:
Kerry is SNOOPYbrown Zamboni, who helped host the Second Life Barnett lecture
last week (and who I embarrassingly thought, based on his avatar, was
a girl); Chris Carella is Satchmo Prototype, who hosted a session in
SL several weeks back on using it as a crisis management simulation
environment; and John Lester is Pathfinder Linden, who has been our
contact at Linden Labs for educational use of the system. Though I
only got to chat for a couple minutes (and missed the Second Life
gathering the previous night because I couldn’t find it), it was nice
to be able to meet these folks face-to-face whom I’d already
developed some knowledge of and respect for in-game.

HazMat Hotzone

This was one of the most interesting sessions in the Summit. Not only
had Jesse Schell of CMU brought in a half-dozen machines on which to
demonstrate their software, he also prevailed upon the New York Fire
Department to provide personnel to work through a simulation of a
chlorine gas leak in a city subway. Each firefighter had his own PC
and headset to simulate the visual and auditory experience of going
into a crisis situation and was required to use “radio” to
communicate with each other, the truck driver, and the dispatcher.
Once on the scene, they donned their repiratory gear (which
restricted their field of view and had an “air remaining” meter as
part of the heads-up display) and headed down into the subway
station, asking bystanders for details of what was going on, helping
ambulant victims to an exit, and preparing to carry out people who
were more seriously afflicted. We were able to watch things unfold on
two screens, one of which showed the view of the officer who was
leading the 3 man team into the station, the other showing the screen
of the scenario administrator, who could float trough the
environment, observing the action from any vantage point, and filling
a sort of “dungeon master” role, where she could modify the training
scenario on the fly.

After the session was concluded, the instructor debriefed the team,
pointing out what they did well, and bringing out places they could
have done better. (Though the rumbling of subway cars in the
background indicated that trains were still running, the team didn’t
contact the transit department to keep the subway cars from pushing
the contamination through the tunnels to other stations.) The Chief
of the New York Fire Academy discussed the changing training needs of
the department in the wake of 9/11, and how training for biological/
radiological/chemical hazards had become a more critical part of
their regimen. Interestingly, both the firefighters and the
programmers cited the realistic graphics as being one of the key
success factors for the simulation — the firefighters became
markedly more engaged once the in-game uniforms were modified to
match their real world gear, randomly blowing trash was added to the
streets, and other realistic touches were added.

Making Educational Games That Are Elegant, Fun, and Really Educational

Catherine Hendrick, Game Producer at gameLab, presented this session.
Much of it was a reiteration of the standard software development
cycle, with a few concessions to the specific needs of Serious Games
— discussion of educational values, assessment, and a determination
of whether an interactive digital game is really the best way to
achieve the educational goals. People on the instructional side of
the fence who want to work on creating games should, first off, play
lots of games to gain an understanding of how they work and what
conventions are, and should consider embracing conflict as part of
the game’s design. Catherine went on to describe two games gameLab
had created: the first was a web-based stock-trading simulation which
was very nicely done, but was never released, due to management
SNAFUs. Real Deal, a card game commissioned by the US Army to teach
stay-in-school skills to students and inspired by Chez Geek, now
reaches over 400,000 students annually.

But Do They Learn Anything? Integration of Learning Management Systems

The last session was hosted by Curtis Conkey, Lead engineer at NETC
Experimentation Lab, in Orlando, FL. He has been exploring the
challenges of integrating 3D simulation games with Learning
Management Systems, which track what courses people have taken and
how they did. The first difficulty is that the NAVY requires all of
their instructional material to be compliant with SCORM, a
standardized way of packaging reusable, web-based instructional
modules. Unfortunately, since SCORM is web-based, 3D games don’t fit
well into it, as they aren’t typically delivered through a web page,
often require extensive setup, and have their own user interfaces.
The second challenge is extracting meaningful data from a play
session in a 3D game: while it might be easy to gather success
statistics is a straightforward single-player snowboarding game, it’s
very difficult to extract good data from a multiplayer virtual world.
(He showed the infamous Leeroy Jenkins video as an example of this —
how does one have an LMS system automatically determine whether this
was a failure of leadership, motor skills, planning, or execution?)
Though he didn’t have any definitive answers to these challenges, I
suspect that this will be an area we at Texas State will need to
explore over time as well.


I got a ton of good information out of this conference. If anybody
would like to discuss particular sessions in any more detail, I took
copious notes on most of them, and would be happy to cover them in
more detail. A big thanks to Texas State University for sponsoring the trip!