In the blooming, buzzing confusion of all things called serious games or gamification, there are a lot of games built from software. For example, Darfur Is Dying is a browser-based game designed to raise awareness, and no small amount of outrage, about the sad plight of average people in Darfur. X-Plane teaches pilots how to fly planes in a fashion that anyone who has played Microsoft Flight Simulator and similar games can easily understand.
But how many games really need software? A recent article at SmartWarBlog argues that, for the US military, the answer is, Not as often as we assumed. With DoD budgets shrinking, expensive computer simulations need a strong justification for the military to continue funding them.
In some cases, it’s hard to see the alternative. If you want to teach someone how to fly a helicopter without actually risking a helicopter, you’ll need a simulator. In many other cases, however, you don’t need software. If you need to teach a budding young officer how to use fixed-wing and rotary-wing airpower in conjunction with ground forces, you
Outside of the world of military simulations, there are also cases when you need software to succeed. The whole point of Darfur Is Dying was to reach a wider audience ignorant of a human catastrophe, so making the game a click away in a browser was definitely the right approach. But how many other serious games really need software? could easily use a commercial wargame like the old Tac Air to impart that lesson. (In fact, Tac Air started its life as a military training tool, then later became a commercial wargame.)
This question may have special relevance for games as learning tools. Not every educational game needs to follow in the same path as Oregon Trail and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, very many of them do. (Too many, in fact, for us to ever imagine listing the
m on this site.) If you want to teach someone about even the most complex topics like supply chain management, a simple “pen and paper” exercise like The Beer Game works just fine. You could make it a snazzy mobile game that runs on iOS and Android…But why?
The rule of thumb for serious game designers should be, try first to do the m
ost with the least. Not only will you keep costs down, but you’re likely to make the game easier for the players to absorb. If you had $250,000 dollars to make a browser-based supply chain simulator, odds are pretty good that people would throw additional complexity into the game because the software can handle it. Unfortunately, the people playing the game might not, and you would lose important insights in the process.