What are the advantages and disadvantages of serious games?

I received this question via email a few days ago. It prompted an interesting response from me… a brief summary of my thoughts on the subject actually… so I thought I’d share it here, too.

In short, I think the impact of serious games, or rather the potential impact, is to provide a powerful medium for education and for affecting positive social change. The advantages are many. For starters, games are engaging and motivating, and appeal to students (particularly young students) in a medium they are comfortable with (see Marc Prensky’s work, particularly his writings on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants for more on this). Also, and this is what I am most interested in, games can provide a context for learning, opportunities for inquiry, and a framework for collaboration… all elements that are important in an educational environment, particularly in the constructivist philosophy (here, I hope, is where my research – and my blog, might come in handy). Finally, games – particularly those with many simulation elements – can be used to teach content that is typically very difficult to teach in the classroom, including non-linear content such as cyclical or systems content (see Clark Aldrich’s work for more on these content types), and what some call 21st century skills of digital age literacies, inventive thinking (particularly risk taking), effective communication, and high productivity (see http://www.ncrel.org/engauge/skills/skills.htm for an explanation of what I mean by these skills).

As for the disadvantages, there are several obvious ones… in terms of current commercial games, we have a ways to go to deal with the violence and gender equity issues. Too, most current games can be very sedentary activities. From an educational technology standpoint, most games will place considerable demands on schools’ student-to-computer ratios, hardware specs, and infrastructure (connectivity and bandwidth). Development of the games, and an economic model, may be the biggest hurdles involved.

I hope this might help others who are newly interested in the subject. I’m also hoping some of you who know quite a bit more will share your thoughts on this summary. For instance… what’d I leave out?