By Dolly Rairigh Glass

Team-Orlando-Serious-games-Showcase-and-Challenge-2013For many years, Serious Games Showcase & Challenge (SGS&C) was getting great game submissions that revolved around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The IPT believed these games would be applicable for high school education, yet none of the current feedback they were getting included the target users – the students.

At the conclusion of the 2012 SGS&C, IPT leads agreed it was too important to wait any longer and decided to make student feedback a priority. They initiated a conversation with Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) and proposed a partnership – one that would expand the make up of the evaluation panel to include their students.

When the talks first started, the SGS&C IPT was so encouraged at the opportunity to include students, they at first suggested that OCPS consider a few classes or a club that would review some of the games. But that didn’t appeal to OCPS. They instead decided the games would be evaluated by all middle and high school students in classes applicable to the game’s subject matter.

“They surprised us by saying SGS&C was a fantastic opportunity, and that they were all in!” said Kent Gritton, SGS&C co-founder. “We couldn’t have asked for a better partner to kick off the inaugural Students’ Choice Award.”

Once the two groups started working together, it didn’t take long to get the inaugural year off the ground and take the excitement to a new level.

“We had to work quickly to put together a ‘Students’ Choice’ pilot before the end of the school year, and in order to make it work, we decided to use games from the 2012 SGS&C,” Gritton said. “We reached out to many of our entries from the previous year to ask their permission, selected a collection of applicable games, and used this opportunity to work out any bugs with distribution, and any other potential snags.”

Gritton said that OCPS thought the experience was great, and very quickly, plans were being made to do it again, but this time preceding the 2013 SGS&C so that students could choose the first ever SGS&C Students’ Choice award winner.

Today, the IPT is continuing to expand their base of student participants, and with the 10th largest school district in the nation as its partner and number one fan, it seems as though continued success is inevitable. Seminole County Public Schools and other neighboring districts have been briefed on Serious Games, the Students’ Choice award and how both their districts and the SGS&C will benefit from their participation. School districts outside of Florida have also been approached and have shown interest.

Both IPT leaders and OCPS believe that involving students with Serious Games is a win-win-win situation for all.

First, it gives the administrators a chance to train their students using this type of technology, as educational institutions are slowly transitioning to more and more of these learning tools. It’s also an easy way for the administration to analyze and understand what it takes to employ the technology in the school system.

Second, the teachers can teach any subject matter they desire using these types of capabilities and augment them specifically for their curriculum.

And finally, students have the chance to get used to this way of learning, which is sure to dominate their options for learning as years go on.
However, what is most pleasing for the game developers themselves is to have an audience of evaluators for which the game was actually made, play their games and provide feedback.

Gritton said the data from the student evaluations has been so important for the developers because the students are honest – and without reservation – share their feelings. “They would tell us, for instance, that game “A” was no good because there wasn’t a bad guy to beat or fight against,” said Gritton.

“Evaluations like these are invaluable. Perhaps more successful games for this audience should include something ‘evil’ to overcome to make it worthwhile.”
“If you’re able to push the story line in that fashion, maybe that’s all it takes to capture the player’s imagination so they learn through the game,” Gritton explained. “There are probably very good story lines that are tried and true, and all we have to do is understand those that map to the student, and address those accordingly.”

2013 Serious Games Showcase & Challenge At-A-Glance
52 entries; 18 finalists (14 PC, 4 Mobile); 10 student entries/4 finalists & 2 International SGS&C games
IPT Chair – Jennifer McNamara (BreakAway LTD)
Deputy Chair – Roger Caldwell (AFLCMC/WNSEB)
Best Serious Game Business Category: MACBETH by University of Oklahoma
Best Serious Game Student Category: A Slower Speed of Light by MIT Game Lab
Best Serious Game Government Category: Decisive Combat by Singapore Armed Forces Centre for Leadership Development
Best Mobile Serious Game: GORRDEE by U.S. Army PdM-Ground Manuever
Special Emphasis Award – Adaptive Force Training: MACBETH by University of Oklahoma
Students’ Choice Award: Algeburst by Muzzy Lane Software
People’s Choice Winner: GORRDEE by U.S. Army PdM-Ground Maneuver