Serious games are games intentionally designed to provide learning outcomes. Both analogue and digital games can provide spaces for deep reflection and learning, and can be used for training in a variety of topics.
Why play games seriously?
Recent research has shown a link between playing games at work and job performance in a range of industries. As Huizinga pointed out in 1938, playing is both by definition non-serious and yet requires serious attention. Games develop a structured form where we can experiment with different rules and behaviours, safe from ‘real’ consequences yet resulting in serious effects. As a training mechanism, games can be highly effective, as well as engaging for participants.
To support learning and development
A wide range of today’s commercial games embed a specific theme, such as representation, ecological balance, or even management of specific businesses and public services. Playing games with a highly developed and accurate theme can offer participants the opportunity to raise their awareness and expand their knowledge in a range of subjects, without suffering from too much ‘classroom fatigue’!
Specific skill training
Using rules and mechanics, games can also model and enhance specific skills through collaborative or competitive play, from resource management to general strategy. These are particularly useful in instruction in a range of agile production and development methodologies.
There are also games which aim to enhance non-verbal communication, to improve empathy, or even to support learning about mental health first-aid. The use of adapted games selected for the purpose in a structured workshop can focus participants on valuable take-aways and enhance skill development.
Action & Reflective practice
A wide range of today’s games do much more than Snakes & Ladders or Monopoly to address the strategic, social and environmental challenges business and society face. According to Argyris and Schön, our approaches to action in the world are made up of patterns of what we say and patterns of what we do. Yet too often we focus on saying the right thing over changing our practice.
Topical play with structured reflection can help develop better self-awareness of our theories-in-use or patterns of action in order to identify routes for active change. Encouraging playfulness as a general practice can also help build collective resilience against external change, great for organisations in fast-paced environments.
What games should I play and do I need a facilitator?
In many cases, identifying a suitably skilled or themed game or engaging in general play in a reflective manner will offer a route to development. However, ensuring you reach your desired learning outcomes can rely on effective structuring and facilitation of the learning intervention to keep participants on-task. Many outcomes require targeted design and the use of additional reflective exercises to accompany them.