News - Serious Games by Design

Serious Games by Design

By Carla Morris

Game Design & Development

No, oh no. Dread washed over the nurse the instant she realized her error.

Earlier, she told the prescription provider that the patient had no allergies, but now, she discovered, she was mistaken. The patient was allergic to a medication he had just ingested. Her heart raced as his vital signs plummeted.

Nursing instructor Erin Shankel witnessed the unfolding drama. She knew the patient would survive the crisis, but only to face a similar fate another day. She knew, because the “patient” was a high fidelity, programmable simulator mannequin that her colleague controlled from a booth at Belmont University’s School of Nursing.

Shankel arranged the allergic reaction to create a memorable learning experience for the student who erred. She customized a lesson to the student’s need and delivered it in the safety of the school’s simulation center. Later, in a session “debrief,” the student reviewed the jarring event with an instructor. Together, they talked about ways to avoid similar disasters in the future.

“Simulation is an up-and-coming concept in health care training programs,” explains Shankel, now in her sixth year teaching at Belmont. She customizes a wide range of scenarios including full body examinations, heart failure and end of life care. She also reviews the latest simulation technologies.

“I think GC’s new program is in a prime position to prepare graduates to fill this need,” she says. The “new program” is a track of study in game design and development available this fall to students majoring in digital media. Elements of the program apply to interactive, scenario based learning like the allergic reaction Shankel’s team created. 

Creating The Feeling of “Being There” 

Game design encompasses simulation and creates worlds that generate a feeling of “being there.” It reaches far beyond recreational console games (an estimated $27 billion market in 2013, according to Microsoft) to enhance training for health care workers, heavy equipment operators, military personnel, police officers and more.

“It’s a good fit for what we’re already doing,” says Deloy Cole ’84, director of GC’s digital media program. His observation frames gaming technology as good stewardship of existing resources.

Few Christian colleges offer studies in digital media, but GC’s program has been going strong for nearly 15 years. The addition of game design and development will expose students to career opportunities in the burgeoning gaming industry and open new doors for Christian influence as well.

In terms of job training, video simulations are particularly popular because trainees can repeat their learning sessions until they master the necessary skills. Recent research out of the University of Colorado Denver Business School shows that employees who used video games as part of their training registered a nine percent higher retention rate, an 11 percent higher factual knowledge level and a 14 percent higher skill based knowledge level. 

Greater Sophistication, More Opportunities 

Like today’s recreational console games, simulations that recreate the work environment depend on collaboration from a multitude of skilled contributors. The credits that scroll at the end of a video game resemble the credits at the end of a movie – list upon list of specialists in their fields.

“A game requires every single subject that we offer in digital media,” Cole explains, “graphic design, programming, audio, video, animation. Everything we already teach is right there in a game; we just haven’t pulled it all together until now.”

While GC has graduated animators for years, student interest in the field today is at an all time high. This is good news for trainers like Erin Shankel, who see the increasingly sophisticated animations of the virtual world as valuable stepping-stones to higher stakes interactions with real humans.

When they are not working with mannequins, Shankel’s students interact with virtual patients through a computer program that enables natural dialogue. Students enter questions at a keyboard, and the animated patients respond audibly with associated mouth movements. Moving from conversation to examination, the students “click” on body parts and select tools that help them zoom in and look closely at features like eyes, skin tissue and ear drums. They hear heart and lung sounds.

“The animation is incredible,” marvels Shankel. It’s incredible, because skilled designers and developers made it so. 

This article was originally featured in The RECORD Summer 2015.

This story was published on August 17, 2015

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