Building a Serious Game to Teach Ethics

Simulations and serious games are increasingly being used to develop not just competence but true conviction. The organizational value is obvious:
  • People who learn conviction are not capricious. They stick to these convictions, even in times of boredom, greed, and stress. 
  • They are also ridiculously powerful at holding others accountable to the same higher standard. 
  • And they apply and improvise the material to appropriately adapt it to situations not covered in the formal course. 
This requires a specific design approach.
  • Allow the student to experiment with their traditional behavior. Allow them to do what they would naturally do in a familiar setting. (This is impossible, by the way, in a classroom based role-play, where people are on their best behavior.) When they do something wrong, show them both the immediate, apparent, and high-probability consequences (which are often positive) of their traditional behavior, but also the long term, hidden, and/or "unlikely" but possible consequences (which can be devastating). Allow the player to experience emotionally the direct negative consequences.
  • Visualize the "invisible system," which is the flow of events that people can't normally see, but leads to any devastating outcomes.
  • Allow students to repeat the scenarios (which means they can't be too long, or rely too much on linear content), and then "discover" for themselves the right way of doing things. Students can now learn without ever being taught.
In general cases, it is a straight forward task to create an environment in which a player can experiment and purely learn something new (with depth and conviction).  A genuine curiosity plus an interactive environment and a few tasks leads to a profound understanding.  

Here, non financial managers played around with pricing, value chain, and inventory strategies to gain comfort with the interrelationships.
The sub-category of ethics is a bit trickier
Most ethics (or safety, or sexual harassment, or information assurance) situations are a bit trickier.  Here, often enough, people "know" the right thing (or they can be simply taught), but don't have necessarily deep enough conviction when tested. 

There are two different strategies I can use when developing sims for these "pure conviction" learning objectives.  I can either dive straight in or put forth a MacGuffin context.  

1. Direct Approach

Diving straight in and dealing with the topic directly is tricky because, as mentioned, people in classroom style role-playing are on their best behavior.  However, I can get around this by a) forcing people to do wrong things (such as in the gun safety example below), or b) putting people in a position where they supervise or patrol problems, rather than be the problem (first cyber example below).

In this Army Serious Game, soldiers were asked to "be part of an experiment in a lab situation  looking at the effects of weather and other factors on personal firearm safety."  The game presented soldiers with a safe environment (simulated shooting at targets in a lab) to engage in risky behavior (shooting in inclement weather or even in a simulated tired or drunk state), where they could nonetheless become aware of the impact of the environment on awareness and accuracy.

In this cyber security example,  the player has a high level responsibility for keeping out threats (the red balls) while maintaining productivity.  The player can set up firewalls or encryption or training or other strategies.

2. In Context
Alternatively, I can create a MacGuffin context  Specifically, I have to create an environment in which the player is put in an abstracted situation that matches the activities and emotions of the real world, including where they have some pressure.  It is in this context that they have the opportunity to try out any risky behavior, and then get the consequences. 

In this game sponsored by the World Anti-Doping Agency, players engage in a challenging, real-time fictitious sport (a MacGuffin activity) which they want to win.  One option available to them to boost their stats in the other part of the game is doping.

In this cyber security example, players have to complete work (similar to Sally's Spa) that may have up to four parts.  Each piece of work helps or hurt scores around productivity, good will, and home life.  It is in this pressure environment that players have to evaluate every new request as either legitimate and fraudulent.  

Developing ethics requires a bit of planning.  But as one builds sims, one increasingly realizes why the old ways don't work.

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