mandag 14. februar 2011

Norwegian Game Conference; Part 2

After a lunch and some mingling, Simon Egenfeldt Nielsen, PhD, from  Serious Games held a talk on games and learning. He pointed out that many learning games fail at their goal. He made an interesting analogy on failed edutaininment.
A stupid, but beautiful woman approaches an ugly but intelligent man with the suggestion of procreation. “Imagine!” she says “With my looks and your intelligence, what kids we could produce!” The man then answers “But that child could very well get my looks and your intelligence…”  
This analogy works well with the idea of taking the best from games and education. Sometimes you end up getting the worst from both worlds, resulting in an overall horrid game. Nielsen additionally suggested further what a good learning game could be:    
A good learning game is also a good game
A good game is also a good learning game
He spoke of how game mechanics can be used in order to make education more exiting. As learning doesn’t have the intrinsic motivation like games, it requires some extra work to aquire it. Examples of such gamification includes adding reward systems and other similar game mechanics to real life situations. However, when learning focus increase, motivation tends to decrease. Another challenge is making sure people are actually learning something. This requires the learning to be fundamentally integrated in the game. If the learning is not integrated properly, people will most likely end up playing the game mechanics only, not learning anything new. If learning games are to succeed, they have to be made with integration, motivation and focus in mind.
Simon Egenfeldt Nielsen’s Blog
Serious Games

Next up was Major Roald Wold from the Norwegian Military Academy who held an interesting talk on serious gaming in military training. He shared some experienses from the Norwegian military, which have been using games to simulate combat situations. Generally the experienses have been very good and the recruits have been able to simulate scenarios in a much better way than moving pieces around a map in a chess like manner.
Using war simulator games helps the military go back and analyse what they did and why, while in a pressed situation. Sometimes there were unexpected results where recruits ended up breaking national war code of conduct without even realizing it, such as bombing religious buildings. When asked about it later, the person was not even aware of having done this. This created a situation of many scenarios one can learn important lessons from. These situations do not happen when working in a sandbox environment, which partially is why war gaming is embraced by the military.
It was found that the best thing new recruits could learn from the war simulation games was war communication, which is crucial in real combat situations. This is a valuable skill which is hard to train otherwise without being out on the battlefield. Additionally, the students got better at being tactical and learnt better leadership through communication.

Another interesting find from using war games in military education was the change in role of the teacher. Where the teacher before was the “oracle” of the education, the simulations would turn the teacher into a storyteller and interpreter. While something being being simulated, one needs to make a decision immediately and can not “save it for next time”. Wold also made it clear that simulation war games do not replace the regular lectures, but has removed some lectures of boring material as they can now get “hands on” with the issue rather than simply discussing it.
The most problematic thing about war simulation games is that there are not too many of the realistic and well produced ones. Most commercial war games do have potential but not does work as they are not realistic at all. Additionally, the AI of most games still is not good enough. A better AI as well as the possibility of setting up custom scenarios are features wanted for.

(Major Wold recommended Virtual Battlespace 2 and Steelbeast Beasts Pro to anyone who wanted to try out good war simulation games.)  
After the interesting talk on war games, there was time to relax and watch the videos Peter Girgis, designer from Snøhetta, had to show off.
He showcased concept realization through animation and moving images to sell ideas and concepts of architechture.

The final talk of the day was held by Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor, University of Oxford. She talked about about how gaming could affect the brain.
She started off by describing how the brain works when people get enough mental stimuli. She mentioned experiments where people learning to play the piano got better at playing the piano when thinking about playing it, as opposed to those who didn’t think about it, who had less of a progress. She pointed out how mental stimuli helps developing the brain and how this is important specially as you grow up. She critically questioned how some computer games might affect the development of the brain by nurturing short attention spans.
Some of her conclusions and questions might be debatable, but overall it was an interesting talk with some relation to my own research regarding how stimuli helps developing the brain.

To conclude, it was an interesting day with several surprises. The talk on war games in the military was probably the biggest surprise of the day, managing to entice yours truly, whom is not into subjects of war in almost any way. To be finicky about it, I would have liked to see a clearer focus on games rather than general media. As far as I am concerned, this years conference could have been called Norwegian Media Conference. Hopefully there will be more games in next years conference.

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