Conference round up – Apply Serious Games

by | May 12, 2009 | Articles

This conference was organised on 7th May 2009 to support the Apply Serious Games 2009 Awards.  

Conference Theme
The winner was VStep with Ship Simulator Professional.  The awards were presented by Lord Puttnam of Queensgate,   who also opened the conference.  The theme of many of the presentations described the role that serious games can play in managing carbon footprints.   Lord Puttnam expressed the view that the Western world still has to develop a 21st century way of thinking.  The increase in atmospheric carbon is real, the rise in global temperatures and in sea level is well documented.  He quoted Albert Einstein “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.  The Climate Change Act requires organisations to reduce carbon emissions and the United Kingdom has set itself some very challenging targets.  Serious games have a serious part to play in reducing carbon output.

This report of the conference summarises and paraphrases the main discussions and presentations through the conference.

Potential of Serious Games
Serious games have two contributions to make.

  • They allow players to live in a virtual world and make decisions about life which impact on the simulated environment.  The first thing that young people do when they play games based on sustainable environments is that they destroy the planet.  When they have done this a couple of times they begin to explore why this destruction happened.

The opportunity of making mistakes has always been the most powerful way of learning.  Serious games allow mistakes to be made without serious consequences.  Serious games which truly mimic the environment develop an attitude and thinking about climate change which influence behaviour, particularly that of young people, now and in the future.  If we fail to change the way in which we use the earth’s resources then civilisation may not exist on this planet in a hundred years.

  • The other contribution serious games make is as a worldwide learning, meeting and collaboration platform that enables individuals to work and learn globally without travelling vast distances.  The potential here is for the UK to become the Hollywood of education, exporting educational digital media content for learning worldwide.  Serious games open up an educational methodology that allows learners to learn from their mistakes; a basic essential first step in any learning paradigm.  All of us can be right with hindsight and serious games allow individuals to have foresight from hindsight.

Although the credit crunch is driving much change in learning and development this should not detract us from seeking ways to influence behaviour that will help us manage the environment in a sustainable manner.

The Reality of Climate Change
Craig Simmons of Best Foot Forward presented some of the stark reality of climate change.  Our use of energy is rising exponentially, there is a steady reduction of snow cover in the Northern hemisphere, sea levels are rising, as are average global temperatures.  There is a rise in our consumption of all resources.  Craig described the effect of over fishing and the depleted nature of fish stocks as an example.  He stated that we use 30% more resources each year than the earth can sustainably provide.  Two-thirds of the services provided by nature to humans are in decline worldwide.

The Reality of Organisational Response
Justin Bovington of Rivers Run Red described some of the current influences on companies as a result of the credit crunch.  The Institute of Travel Management has been re-branded and is now the Institute of Travel and Meetings.  Justin described how they were moving from an expertise based on Air, Road and Track to one of Audio, Video and Immerse.  Justin believes that cost is driving this change but that climate change issues will ensure that organisations will not revert to the old ways.  He quoted one global organisation that is changing the culture from air miles and business travel to immersive meeting spaces by paying bonuses for staff who meet virtually.  Once people become used to virtual meeting spaces they will meet less in real life.

Steve Prentice of Gartner  made a clear assessment of the role of immersive technology in the business world.  Many organisations have made a ban on travel.  Training budgets are slashed but meetings are still required, as is personal development.  Many of these changes will become permanent; organisations are not going back to the way it was.  Those responsible for implementing virtual meeting spaces should not worry about the tools; they are mostly free or exceptionally low cost.

Individuals themselves have a choice of how to communicate, the convenience of virtual meeting spaces will be apparent to many particularly if the lure of business travel and air miles is reduced.  He made it clear to the audience that if they were not sure they needed a three-dimensional meeting space then they probably didn’t.  Such spaces become more critical for learning and development where safety issues are significant.  This might be where physical safety is at risk or ethically damaging.  It takes several hours to learn how to use a 3-D immersive space and this raises the bar on the payback time for the individual as well as the organisation. He said that technology succeeds when it meets a need that people care about.

Games are a drawback
He felt that the use of the word ‘games’ was a serious drawback to the adoption of the technology.  Games are trivial and are not taken seriously by senior managers in organisations.  The prefix ‘serious’ does not make enough of a difference.

It was essential for presenters and participants in virtual spaces to learn how to listen and how to present.  The quality of the content delivered was paramount.  Participants minimise the window on a virtual space and get on with other work unless the content is engaging and they are personally engaged with the presenter and others.

Security matters: organisations feel a need to manage the software in-house to ensure confidentiality and privacy.  Middle managers are probably the group that have the greatest problem using virtual worlds.  They are travelling all the time.  Organisations stretch the skills of middle managers across multiple sites and locations as they move towards ever-flatter management structures.   Metrics are essential to demonstrate the value of virtual meeting spaces and immersive technologies.  This has to be more sophisticated than just measuring the fact that participants are logged on.  It is important to measure the extent to which people interact in a meeting to understand the extent to which participants disengage from the presenter, from the content and from each other.

Conclusion.
It was clear from the conference that climate change needs to be taken seriously, learning technologies in their widest sense have a key role to play in reducing our carbon footprint.  The Climate Change Act  will require organisations to do that.  The UK Government has set some exceptionally challenging targets with a requirement to reduce our carbon output by 26% by 2020 and 80% by the year 2050..  Learning and development professionals have to gear themselves up to help their organisations achieve that.  They will only do so by developing a 21st century way of thinking.

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