By Dolly Rairigh Glass

The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge (SGS&C) is the premier venue for recognition of excellence in the field of Serious Games development. The Challenge, in its seventh year, is especially prideful of its continued growth, most impressively, seeing growth from entries throughout the International and Student communities, as well as welcoming the winners from the first Australian SGS&C at SimTecT.

Eighteen finalists, including the Business and Student winners from Australia’s inaugural SGS&C, will take their place in the SGS&C booth (#3263) in Orlando, Florida, at the 2012 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) Dec. 3-6. Each of these 18 finalists may be named as the top game in their category, but they also have the opportunity to wow and entertain attendees with their games, vying to earn their vote for the People’s Choice Award for best game at the Showcase.

The awards will be announced at the SGS&C ceremony on Dec. 6 and will be conferred in the categories of: Best Business Game, Best Government Game, Best Student Game, Best Mobile Game, People’s Choice Award and the Best Game in the Special Emphasis Category of Adaptive Force Training.

The Challenge showcases the innovation and creative talents in Serious Games and continues to show how games are a viable medium for imparting training objectives for a range of purposes, whether those are defense-related training, medical training, games that teach math or language, or better communication.

Today, SGS&C involves evaluators from more than 100 experts from across the Globe, who are actively involved in Serious Games within academia, government or industry, and organizers feel it’s extremely important for the consistency and credibility of the Challenge, that they utilize expertise from a diverse group of evaluators. Each evaluator, based on their own personal experiences and knowledge, looks at the games from a very different viewpoint, making them an important part of the overall success of the challenge.

A key indicator of positive growth and feedback for the Challenge organizers is seeing individuals who have submitted games in the past, return to submit another game, as well as companies who produced winning games, using their SGS&C win to help promote their company.

John Brooks, CEO, RealTime Immersive, Inc., in Orlando, Florida, submitted a game in 2007, and won the prestigious SGS&C People’s Choice Award for his entry, Vigilance, and this year, RealTime Immersive, has been named a finalist for its submission of another CryEngine powered game, Virtual Attain.
“Serious Games developers are having a huge impact on the world of training,” said Brooks. “This impact has yet to be fully realized and will continue to be molded as this new market space, which we at RealTime call “mass virtual,” continues to mature.

Harvard Extension School student Philip Seyfi submitted and won with his first game, NihongoUp, when he was in high school. Two years prior to graduation and learning Japanese, his sixth language at the time, Seyfi wanted to use his knowledge of both programming and modern languages, as well as his design and psychology skills, in a new project. He designed a Serious Game to help students, like himself, learn Japanese.

This year, Seyfi, with his partner, Ollie Capehorn, a student at Oxford, has been chosen as a finalist again for his language game, Lingualift. They have developed a set of interactive textbooks, spaced repetition tools, educational games and print resources for language self-learners. His first time as a finalist in 2009, Seyfi was unable to take part in I/ITSEC, but this year he is excited to be a finalist and will be attending this year in person.

“Our first education is through playing, and to me this is the logical ‘grown up’ extension to this,” said Seyfi. “Studying can be boring and games are an important piece of the puzzle. The situation is slowly improving, but it will probably take years, if not decades, until we, as a society, learn to use and appreciate games, whether Serious or recreational, to their full potential.”

Bora Aytun, Co-Founder and CEO of MAVI Interactive, entered SGS&C for the first time in 2009 with his game, Agent Surefire-Infosec, and with valuable feedback from the judges, submitted Agent Surefire: Breach Buster with ESET in 2011. A finalist that year, but not a winner, Aytun returns this year as a finalist with Agent Surefire: Insider Threat, a Cyber Security Awareness training program.

“Serious Games are the engaging, experiential and highly effective alternative in meeting some of the most challenging training objectives,” explained Aytun. “Every developer should bring their games to SGS&C!” said Aytun.

When SGS&C first began, many in government were unsure they wanted to invest in gaming, and industry also carried a cautious approach because they were unsure they could support it as a business risk. And students were not aware of another avenue by which they could apply their talents. But today, with the increasing recognizability of SGS&C, both at home and internationally, one can certainly say that SGS&C has been a contributing factor to the forward motion and growth of Serious Games development.

Each year the games have continued to improve in quality and usability and this year, seven of this year’s entries also qualified for the Special Emphasis Category of Adaptive Force Training. Adaptive stance is an individual’s ability to repeatedly try new or different strategies to solve problems, while considering feedback with the purpose of improving overall success.

“Serious games can be skills-practice or immersive training environments for honing adaptive stance,” explained Elaine Raybourn, Sandia National Laboratories and SGS&C Special Emphasis Award Committee Lead.

Raybourn noted that what is crucial is the understanding that adaptive stance training is one which hones the ability of the trainee to be, or learn to become, adaptive, agile and responsive to people, surroundings and environment.
“For our IITSEC community, it is important that some Serious Games have the design mechanics to hone skills indicative of an adaptive stance because that is one of the Military training goals games can address,” said Raybourn. “Games allow us to explore how we would address problems and solve problems in relatively safe environments. We learn who we are, and how we’ll respond. That’s training.”

I/ITSEC attendees will have their chance to sample the finalists’ games as they will each be featured at the SGS&C booth in the I/ITSEC STEM pavilion. But whichever Serious Games are named as winners on Dec. 6 for each of these awards, SGS&C organizers are excited and encouraged about the growth, including the total number of games with student and international entries, as well as the diversity and quality of each of them, and feel these are the “best of the best.”