What is a game?
Note: This series of posts is a discussion of the use of serious games in healthcare training, but is by no means a comprehensive survey of games and healthcare. Together, they comprise the handout for a talk on serious games, given at UMHS on May 12. (View presentation)
We all have an idea of what a game is, but it is not so easy to define precisely what makes games different from other activities. No definition of games is entirely complete, but we can approach an understanding by considering games in relation to similar activities, such as reading stories, watching movies, playing with toys, solving puzzles, and so on, and try to see where the significant differences lie.
Stories, games, toys, puzzles, races, etc. all have some attributes in common, but the proportions of those attributes make some activities more gamelike. Thinking about the role of attributes such as interactivity, representation, challenge, and risk can help us understand the nature of a particular learning game, what types of learning objectives it might be most effectively used for, and what kind of learner might benefit from it.
With these limits in mind, one good place to start is Debra Lieberman's definition: "A rule-based activity involving challenge to reach a goal. Rules, Challenge and Goal are themselves very flexible terms, but they do set up a structure we can work within. We'll be discussing these and other attributes, as well as which attributes seem to most affect learning.
Some game researchers consider the game's rules as the key difference between a game and other forms of narrative, but I think, particularly in health care, the narrative has a privileged role.
Debra Lieberman has served on the advisory board for Games for Health for the past two years. Her extensive expertise in this area has been invaluable in shaping this emerging field. Debra Lieberman is a lecturer in the Department of Communication and a researcher in the Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research (ISBER) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Sections in this article:
- What is a game?
- Attributes of games
- The Virtual Knee Surgery game as a window onto some gaming concepts
- The Virtual Patient specification
- Why use games for training?
- Potential problems with using serious games
- Keys to Success
- Effectiveness: Tying learning outcomes to game attributes
- Simulations: how real is real enough?
- Role-playing games
- Edutainment Examples
- Games for Patients (to come)
- References, Resources and Templates