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Serious Gaming at Sigma Xi

Last week I went to this season’s last American Scientist pizza lunch at Sigma Xi featuring Phaedra Boinodiris (Twitter, blog), Serious Games Product Manager at IBM.

I first saw Phaedra Boinodiris speak as the opening speaker at TEDxRTP (my review) back in March, but this was a different kind of talk, geared more towards scientists and science communicators.

I remember playing Pong when it first came out. I remember spending many hours back in 1980 or so playing The Hobbit on Sinclair ZX Spectrum. And I played many games at arcades (still not knowing which games started out as arcade games adapted to computers and which the other way round). Then I quit playing games for a couple of decades until my kids were ready for them. I loved Zoombinis – an amazing game of logic and a brilliant preparation for taking IQ tests! I loved Richard Scarry’s Busytown – the one and only game I know about infrastructure, where players build stuff and deliver it to others for the good of the town – from baking bread to paving roads – learning along the way how those things are done.

And sure, Phaedra Boinodiris started with a slide depicting Pong (to the chuckle of the audience) but soon got into the real stuff – the serious gaming and the story of how she got involved in developing such games, as well as about studies of gaming and how different kinds of games help develop different real-work skills, from eye-hand coordination to leadership to cooperation. Her first game – INNOV8 – was developed as a prototype, a proof of concept, in only three months and instantly became a huge hit. It is used by businesses and business schools around the world to teach Business Process Management. It is essentially a first person shooter game (without guns) in which the player is brought as an outside consultant into a company where s/he has to figure out the flow, the bottlenecks, etc. (including by interviewing employees, as well as data-sheets) and experiment in making it more efficient. The 2.0 version came soon after, adding such problems as traffic, customer service and supply chains.

The next game, recently announced and coming out in October 2010, will be a Sim-City-like serious game CityOne, designed to help city planners, town councils, citizens, and engineers plan better, more efficient infrastructure for their cities. Put in your city’s specs and start building new infrastructure, see how much it will cost, see what problems will arise, see what solutions are available – probably something you could not have thought of yourself and may be surprised.

As I am currently reading ‘On The Grid’ it occured to me that the developers of CityOne should read that book, and that Scott Huler should be given a test-run of the game, perhaps for him to review for Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News&Observer and the local NPR station. And for Science In The Triangle, of course.

Cross-posted from Science In The Triangle