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Innov8 Plant talk 

The potential of using games as educational tools has been extensively Investigated……however, the marked weaknesses of these games such as the scarcity of sound pedagogy, the lack of proper player profiling, the insufficient balance between challenges and skill levels, the technologically poor and unappealing game designs, and the non-customizable nature of these games have been acknowledged and now must be addressed.

So wrote Phaedra Mohammed and Permanand Mohan in their paper entitled “Sugar Coated Learning: Incorporating Intelligence into Principled Learning Games”. Having just spent 20 minutes banging my virtual head against a seemingly never-ending landscape of 3D office cubicles in the IBM Innov8 ‘game’, I’m heavily inclined to agree.   I’d heard so much about Innov8 and I was very keen to try it out. I liked the opening cut scene orientation insomuch as I understood my role and was excited to play it out. Therein the experience quickly In game documentdeteriorated. 

“But you’re a learning guy” I already hear people saying; “games should be immersive, engaging and fun”.

I may be, at 37, older then the average gamer (whatever that actually is) but as someone who has bought 20-odd XBOX/360/PC games in the last fewyears, has played computer games since the late 70s’ and has a mini-museum of games consoles and home computers (some of which still work) I kind of think that I am not that far devolved from what ‘the kids are doing’. I also know that a bad character movement mechanic, annoyingly cumbersome camera systems and rigidly linear dialogues do not, an engaging game, make.

I confess that I gave up on Innov8 after 20 minutes so my observations are admittedly limited but surely that is a pretty key point isn’t it? If we seek to use game engagement qualities and/or the authentic and vocationally-meaningful qualities of simulations because younger generations are not engaging with traditional teaching and 1st generation eLearning…..then having them switch off a game due to acute frustration isn’t exactly giving us the answer now is it? 

I don’t know what budget, time and technological constraints the Innov8 developers were under and, knowing how such pressures act to constrain that what we do very well myself, I have total sympathy if that is the case. Neither am I seeking to knock IBM or the development team, but when such a large multinational corporation makes so much fuss about a product like this I think we are entitled to make constructive critical comments about it. My primary problem with high profile ‘game’ products like this is that they are setting expectations around serious games that focus on eye candy and pseudo game design approaches but do so at the cost of forgetting pedagogy  Let me give you an example. 

The game starts with a ‘to do’ list that requires you to find four documents. These documents are cunningly left on challenging-to-find locations such as …. Erm ….. office desk tops and cubicle walls. Once you have fought against the awkward character control mechanics to explore grey space after grey space you eventually find these and can read them. 

Point #1 That activity took me 15 minutes or so. If you had 1,000 students or trainees each taking that long then you have just used up 250 person hours to give the audience four 1-page documents. If the audience were first year auditors at a Big 4 firm that would equate to around US$50,000 of lost billable time! Try selling that to a Senior Partner who is looking for demonstrable performance improvement. 

These four documents are apparently going to be instrumental in my latter tasks which involves Business Process Management (or ‘BPM’ in Big Blue parlance). I actually found myself intrigued by BPM (so maybe the game did work on me as an advertising medium). I figure that I had better save these in my in-game laptop….only you cannot. The message that pops up on screen says something along the lines of:

Mmmm this looks useful. I must remember where to find this”. 

Are you kidding me? You have given me some information that is obviously going to be useful to me later on but if I need it later I will have to run down a big staircase, navigate around a maze of office partitions and read it again. I’d rather take a screen shot and paste it in to MS Word thanks. 

Point #2 I’m a busy hard-working adult. I have a family I’d like to spend more time with if I could. I hate examples of condesending eLearning and generic training for the masses and love learning by solving problems and trying new things in a risk-free environment. Why can’t I save this and move on? Games are software. Software can write data to hard drives. Don’t make me waste my time if there is an obvious alternative. 

…..GAME OVER 

I dare say that there are many fine qualities to Innov8 and I promise to spend more time with it sometime soon uncovering these and to then provide further thoughts on the subject. In the meantime I have more pressing demands on my time.

coffee bloke

Fig1: Identity hidden to protect the relentless in-game offerer of coffee

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