Developing Serious Games

Article, Katelyn Procci 2 Comments

Katelyn Procci | October 31, 2011

You should always be proud of your work, no matter what you do. Serious games research labs, such as my own, provide a unique opportunity with respect to this. Aside from being able to create a piece of art (yes, I’m one of those games-as-art types) that people enjoy playing, you also have the added benefit of truly helping people.

Sometimes you lose sight of this when you are bogged down with development. Graduate school is hard enough, but graduate school with a production schedule, man, talk about a challenge. You might be grumpy because you’ve been stuck in the office all day and you keep finding bugs in something you need to deliver in an hour and you’re stressed and you’re hungry and the coffee machine won’t work and you don’t remember what the sun or your apartment looks like — but at the end of the day, you are producing something that just might make a difference to someone.

Saturday Serious Games

What working in a serious games research lab looks like. On a Saturday.

That’s why I love training games. One of my most favorite games that we studied was developed by our partners, BBN Raytheon Technologies. Their game, the VESSEL Damage Control Trainer, teaches US Navy recruits all sorts of damage control skills – from first-aid and communications protocols to shipboard navigation.

We conducted several validation studies and found that, by and large, the players of the game performed better than those who did not play the game in a series of transfer tasks. This is excellent from a scientific standpoint – we were able to see that players of the game performed better in realistically simulated situations, one of which included a flooding scenario. Great, we found p-less-than-point-oh-five, let’s publish!

But you really need to take a step back and think about what you’ve just found. What it really boils down to is, because someone played this game, they were just a touch faster at fixing a leaking pipe, or they were able to understand communications just a little bit better. In an emergency situation, in which these skills will be used, this can be the difference between life and death.

Potentially, this game just saved a life.

And being a part of that is a great feeling.

Games like these are great because, with a little creativity and appropriate implementation, they can be used for almost anything. My most favorite current project are the set of minigames we are developing. Supported by a grant from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, we were subcontracted by the Novonics Corporation to create little practice environments for the content taught in a larger simulation to help soldiers deal with the psychological challenges of deployment. Our minigames touch on all sorts of areas, like how to correct cognitive distortions or how to best deal with uncomfortable questions and situations that deployed soldiers may face upon returning stateside. They’re all neat and unique games (go ahead, try to find another stealth-based serious game, I dare you) and their instructional and therapeutic value is potentially immense (stay tuned for the results of our upcoming validation studies).

If one soldier is helped because they played our game, that makes it all worth it.

As an aside, if you are going to I/ITSEC 2011 later this year, you should come by our booth and play some of our games! Two of those minigames, Devil’s Advocate and Garden Defense, are both finalists in the 2011 Serious Games Showcase & Challenge.

Devil's Advcoate

Devil’s Advocate

2 Responses to “Developing Serious Games”

  1. Siyabonga Africa says:

    Hi Katelyn

    My name is Siyabonga Africa and I am a new media graduate at Indiana University. I came to grad school to learn how to make serious games and my current thesis project is a games design document based on the land redistribution problem in Southern Africa. I was wondering if I could talk to you about your studios work and how to get involved in serious games design.



  2. Katelyn Procci says:

    Hello Siya,

    Of course. Expect an email from my knightsmail account sometime tomorrow!


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