Today’s 24×7 world is suffering from “Infotigue.” Our world is filled with large streams of data in previously unimaginable volumes. Contextual simulations can be used to help sort and interpret data. However, these often fail to keep peoples’ attention. Serious games can enable the visualization of this complex data in different ways such that even non-experts can understand, contribute to and act on it.

Last fall, thousands of people helped map the structure of an enzyme that could fight HIV and AIDS by playing a downloadable game. Researchers were able to crunch data from player’s moves to quickly gain valuable insights into protein folding. This project shows the power of “collective intelligence” when big data is harnessed and analyzed through games and its approach can lead to advances in both problem solving and process optimization.

Games that focus on process optimization involve examining the most efficient and effective ways to improve procedures via iterative collaborative gameplay, applying Six Sigma principles.

Results can include tremendous improvements in margin, capacity and capital reductions. Even the minutest advances in process optimization can lead to tremendous cost savings. This vastly outpaces the standard ROI gleaned from skills training games that replace or augment costly face-to-face training. Like in the book Ender’s Game, serious games integrated with real data and real processes can be used to directly, and positively, affect work environments.

Military, defence and emergency services organizations were early adopters of serious games to teach a wide variety of skills. Now that we can integrate real data and real processes into these games, they can be used to help test inter-agency disaster response scenarios or scale skills training beyond the platoon level to tackle adaptive thinking, complex strategy and operational use.

The coordinated and cooperative nature of defence work requires team building, and prepares for specific and highly synchronized missions. Potentially hazardous work benefits from simulations in which mistakes can be made without causing actual damage or endangerment, and then evaluated for future learning.

For example, serious game techniques can help optimize military supply chains. By creating real-time strategy games that can be “played” to examine how unforeseen events might affect real-world components, departments can help make their supply chains work better. Business or industry partners can also be included to tap insights from a wider network. The end-product becomes a new, executable supply chain process that has been pre-vetted by the broader value chain.

Serious games are different from simulations in that they actually motivate people to play, which is critical for iteration. Gameplay preserves engagement, yet focuses players on important concerns, generating real learning and helping transform assumptions, skills and behaviors.

In a cyber defense scenario, players benefit from competing in opposing roles on offense, defence and network exploitation, combined with playing as different entities such as countries and organizations. Real time strategy games should also perform the mundane and repetitive aspects of a scenario for the player in the same way that mundane and repetitive IT tasks, business processes and attacks should be automated.

Direct representation of the decision process can be an instructive way to introduce new leaders to their roles and to allow key decision makers to focus on anomalous incidents while automating the common. A cyber security game that includes the possibilities of organizational policy, politics, operating costs, social engineering and kinetic retaliation will better prepare players for real-world complexities.

Whatever the content focus, smarter games techniques can help visualize and explain complex systems via principles of video and online gaming. They engage participants through competition, teamwork, intrigue, curiosity and problem-solving. This attracts participation, encourages creativity and helps establish a path to collaborative work and analysis.

With current advances in process optimization, cloud, analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities, the defence industry has the tools it needs to stretch beyond investments in strictly first person shooter style static games targeted to platoons. Advanced serious games can teach the kinds of adaptive abilities needed to solve complex problems, including leading and managing, handling logistics and resources, prioritizing tasks, making sense of rapidly changing data and learning from mistakes.

These techniques leverage all genres of gameplay. They can even be integrated with artificial intelligence capabilities like IBM’s Watson that will use its ability to synthesize natural language as part of gameplay. With advanced standards, smarter serious games can support cross genre gameplay so that a geo-specific strategy plan that is optimized in a multiplayer real-time strategy game by commanders can then be played out in a first person shooter by platoons – seamlessly.

It’s up to each organization to grasp just how powerful serious games are – and make the most of them. Game on!


Phaedra Boinodiris is the serious games program executive for IBM. She is the producer of IBM’s award-winning INNOV8 serious games.