What are Serious Games? The New Trend in Education & Training Explained

Gamified approaches to learning have become a new trend and are finding their way more and more into modern education and on-the-job training. However, educational games are not a new method – they have been around for some time. The American scientist Clark C. Abt introduced the concept of serious games in 1970 in his book under the same title.1

The primary goal of serious games is to convey knowledge and skills in an entertaining way. In the process of digitalization, serious games have been developed further and are now mainly available in the form of computer simulations.

What are serious games?

How do Serious Games work?

Serious games redefine expectations of a learning world. They are comparable to video games that are fun, but at the same time enable knowledge transfer. The entertaining content always hides educational messages or learning content that should be brought closer to the player in a relaxed manner. Due to the high entertainment value the attention of the players can be drawn to serious topics. Serious games are developed to deepen special skills, to effectively convey new knowledge through the fun of the game and thus promote sustainable learning.

How can Serious Games be used?

Serious games are used in many areas. There are for example Military Games, Healthcare Games, Political Games and News Games 1. Serious games therefore make a contribution to gamified learning in various areas. The games are also suitable for different age groups and can be adapted individually to the respective target group.

An interesting example of a serious game is “Inside the Haiti Earthquake”2. In this game the player finds himself on the island of Haiti after an earthquake and is confronted with the chaos and devastation after the natural catastrophe. After a short introductory video the player has to decide which role he wants to take on. He can act as a journalist, volunteer or survivor and has the corresponding options for action. The player can see the problems and decision-making situations faced by the people involved and decides for himself on how to proceed. The possible measures range from the distribution of relief supplies to cooperation with the United Nations.

Through this scenario the player can roughly imagine how people affected feel in such a crisis situation, yet the situation is depicted realistically and touchingly. The game was designed to challenge superficial assumptions about disaster management, and to help players understand the challenges that come with natural disasters.

What is the difference between serious games and business simulations?

Do business games also belong to the group of so-called “serious games”? Although this assumption may seem obvious at first glance, there are differences between the two concepts.

Serious Games and Business Simulations

In serious games it is all about entertainment. Above all, the games must have a very high fun factor and the story as well as the usability are crucial factors for a successful serious game. With elaborate 3-D graphics and animations, instructive content is presented in a playful manner. The player is only learning passively and the learning effect is only a side-product. Serious games are only partially subject to didactic constraints.

However, in business simulations the focus is on learning success. This type of simulation is therefore subject to strict didactic constraints. The gamified approach is used in business simulations to increase the participants’ motivation to learn. In terms of content, the aim is to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical situation.

In a virtual company environment, participants take on the role of management and make overall company decisions in a risk-free environment. Participants learn to apply theoretical knowledge from different areas of the industry in practice and to combine it with each other.

Management simulations are overall significantly more complex and the learning objectives are more strategic. The focus is on the realistic depiction of the interdependencies of an economic operation and the approach to solving various strategic questions. In the business simulation, participants can try out different solutions and experience first-hand the consequences of their own actions.


  1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4994/0d0ff9081456e9ee51f07522b71d58cab639.pdf 
  2. http://www.zeit.de/digital/games/2011-01/serious-game-haiti
  3. http://www.onseriousgames.com/differences-between-e-learning-gamification-and-serious-games/


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