“Serious Games can impact on practically any sphere of human endeavour”. This is a phrase I have used a number of times; in presentations, marketing materials and white papers. On a recent, particularly monotonous car journey, I found myself reflecting on this statement and wondered if I could really substantiate it.
Just as it is hard to write a book about a subject of which you know very little, it would be hard for me to apply this test to a vocation which I had not had so I am going to apply it to a partial list of paid jobs I have had since the age of 12. I have identified, for each of these, how a Serious Game could have helped my master the job quicker, improve my performance and/or reduce my mistakes. The one thing I do not pretend is that these ideas, below, are in any way commercially viable. It is the learning application that interests me.
Paper boy (1982-86): Two ideas came to mind here: getting to know a particular paper round quickly, as in the geographic layout including road names etc; and, safety. I had a particularly large round that was not particularly linear. I also filled in for many other kids who were less inclined to get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. It is easy to conceive of a games-based application that allowed paper boys (and gals) to visualise their routes and to help them plan the most efficient way through that. They could try different routes and see the total mileage, steps taken, calories burned and the time they got back home. On the safety side, the job involved being out in all elements very early in the morning, carrying heavy loads on a bicycle around roads and alley ways (without lights, reflective attire or helmets!). A quick safety awareness game – illustrating the risks and consequences – could potentially save many kids from injuries or worse.
Cashier in a petrol station (1986-88): This job involved customer service, monetary responsibility and a responsibility for the site as I and other cashiers often worked alone at evenings. A scenario-based role play could have helped with ensuring that cashiers were polite and efficient with customers (including the difficult e.g. drunk ones). A process simulation could have cut the time taken to familiarise oneself with the various procedures around, for example, opening up, cash accounting and shift handovers. I recall several ‘interesting’ encounters with threatening customers and, once when a car drove off the road, skidded across the forecourt – only narrowly missing the pumps – before ending up on its side. I had the presence of mind to shut down the pumps, call the emergency services and make sure the driver was OK but things could have gone badly. An incident response-themed 3D game could be useful for preparing people in this job for dealing with such an event that, although unlikely, could have extreme consequences.
Building Services Contracts Engineer (1988-94): I worked in several departments including: contracts (delivery); estimating; surveying; design; QA; and, on site. As such the training requirements are numerous however, just to pick out a few:
Estimation: involves interpreting a complex brief and breaking down the various mechanical and electrical systems into plant items, consumables (such as copper pipe, cooling towers, fan coil units and cable trunking. Getting the quantities wrong invariably means loosing the contract or, even worse, winning a contract that you are guaranteed to loose money on. If a simulation mimicked the nature of the role and used game play techniques such as time pressures, ‘missions’ etc it could both allow trainees to ‘game the skill’ before doing it for real (making only virtual mistakes) as well as to assess the accuracy of their work.
Site management: this role included managing direct and contract staff of various crafts, liaising with (usually stunningly aggressive main contractors) and a responsibility for site safety. A pre-scripted branching tree role play could be useful for preparing site managers for difficult human interactions (achieving what you need to, dealing with difficult people etc), a resource-based sim could be useful for managing scheduling of staff (i.e. your goal is to deliver on time with minimum costs) and a 3D-based exploration game could allow trainees to explore a virtual building site with the goal of identifying and quantifying safety risks (and even trying different mitigation approaches).
Part time Cashier in a Bookmakers (1994-96, whilst at university): The single most obvious training need I identify here is learning how to deal with difficult customers and situations. I distinctly remember threats of physical harm, attempted fraud and theft, armed robberies and the moment we found a naked heroin addict in the shop toilets. Most staff in bookmakers are not there for the love of the job. It is purely a means of earning an income. A mix of first person character interaction and a The Simsesque style game could prepare staff for such situations with scoring base don how quickly the recognised the problems and how effectively they dealt with them.
Part time Call centre operative (1995, whilst at university): As with the bookmaking experience, 99% of staff in call centres are there purely to earn a living. Finding a way to link job performance to intrinsic reward could lead to more diligent, motivated and thus, effective staff. It could also cut staff turnover (a big problem in call centres). A fast-paced game show style quiz, split into 10 minute mini sessions could be used before each shift to get staff into the zone. It could feature scoring that is base don a mechanic that links sales or customer service performance (in the game) to monetary reward.
Evening Shift Warehouse packer (1995, whilst at university): This job involved periods of extreme physical activity with long periods of waiting around (time to play a learning game perhaps?). My eye for an opportunity draws me towards a resource-based, isometric-style sim where loads arrive and resources (people) need to be on duty and instructed. This could help depot managers and supervisors to be able to recognise inefficiencies and to improve processes (e.g. ‘Lean Management’ techniques).
Evening Shift Post depot worker (1996, whilst at university): Not my favourite ever job, this involved sorting through truck loads of parcels and putting them into the correct place for onwards transportation. One needed to know practically every major UK city and town in order to know which ‘bin’ to put a particular parcel. I remember spending a large percentage of my time asking various (unhelpful) supervisors where various towns were rather than actually putting parcels in bins. A rapid fire (like ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’) style game could quickly build awareness of where towns and cities are and, recognising the low motivation of the employee base, in-game scores could be linked to real life reward such as cash bonuses as if the game proved your geographic knowledge was good then by default you will be more effective at the job.
Part time Barman (1997, whilst at university): One aspect of this job that springs to mind is the need to be able to listen to customers (in a bar 10 deep of sizzled students) and to remember long lists of drink orders. If you can remember ten different drinks without constantly going back to the customer after each one then you will significantly save time and effort. A fun game with levels of escalating challenge could build memorisation skills as well as to help staff to learn different cocktail combinations.
Self-employed web designer (1996-97, whilst at university): Having technical skills will only take you so far when you are self-employed. You also need to be able to market yourself and win contracts. This is not necessarily a natural skill amongst designers and developers. A business sim could help them to understand the basics of small company marketing – get it right and orders arrive, get it wrong and you go bust – whilst a role playing game could help such people to recognise buying signs, negotiate on price and build customer confidence.
Web developer, as faculty staff member (1998): this role involved building web sites for various university departments and projects about which I had little knowledge (or, in some cases, interest). Learning consultancy skills would be a relevant training objective for people in such roles. This could be done by mixing a simulation of client meetings with realistic emulation of processes (e.g. software ‘waterfall’, ‘spiral’ or ‘iterative’ software engineering processes). Feedback could be delivered throughout (as decisions are made) and after key stages with real world consequences being acted out (site is delivered late and fails to do what was required).
Company Director, eLearning development studio (1998-2000): I founded my first company, Netucate Online in 1998 and at that point was confronted with a huge range of concepts, legislation, requirements and tasks of which I had little or no previous experience. A multi-faceted business simulation, perhaps encompassing sales, marketing, operations, finance and HR processes could allow (new) small business owner managers to get grips with mundane requirements (tax, employment contracts etc) as well as to foster an appreciation of how the different business activities all server to affect the others. Business is, after all, a pretty chaotic and unpredictable environment at times.
I feel that I could have gone into much more detail here but I hope I have proved that it is possible to come up with a plausible concept for practically any job role.