By Allan Maurer
“Gamification,” the process of using game-like processes in everything from marketing messages to a protein folding game and others that do real science, has been one of the digital buzz words the last year or two. But “serious games” that use game mechanics to teach or train medical professionals, pilots, biotech workers or soldiers, among others, are a bit different.
“They’re more like simulations,” says Randy Brown, director of the Virtual Heroes division of Applied Research Associates. Founded in Cary, NC in 2004, Virtual Heroes quickly won recognition and awards by establishing itself at the nexus of cutting-edge game technologies developing serious games for medical, military and corporate professionals.
Brown has developed interactive 3D graphics software at Amoco, Digital Equipment, Ex Machina, Data General, SAS Institute, Southpeak Interactive, and the Research Triangle Institute. He has directed training, simulation and gaming content for a wide range of commercial, government and private organizations.
Will speak at the Internet Summit
He’ll talk about serious games at the upcoming Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8.
Serious games, Brown explains, “Give you the ability to play through scenarios with a wide range of sequences in an immersive environment.”
For instance, Virtual Heroes developed an AIDs awareness game in Kenya called “Pamoja Mtaani,” which is Swahili for “together in the hood.”
“We let the kids name it after they played the game,” Brown notes. It was a multi-player game with goals, puzzles to solve in order to move the story forward, and positive messages about condom use, abstinence, and avoiding multiple sex partners.
Other games the firm developed focus on game-based learning, “Where someone needs to perform a task.” Those “procedural” games help players understand what they would do in a biotech environment, for instance, and while they can improve scores against a time constraint, it doesn’t really have game play.
The North Carolina BioNetwork had Virtual Heroes create just such a training game for using pill press machines.
One of the firm’s better known games is “Moonbase Alpha,” which it developed for NASA to get kids interested in science, technology and math. The game “Wasn’t just go shoot space aliens,” Brown says. “It had players solve problems with time limits and used real NASA equipment such as robots and space rovers.”
In a lot of games, Brown notes, people just get better at playing the game. With serious games, however, “We look for transfer. Is there retention after a certain period? Does the AIDS awareness game change beliefs?”
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