Book Review: The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games

The-Complete-Guide-to-Simulations-and-Serious-GamesThe Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games offers an encyclopedic overview and complete lexicon for those who care about the next generation of educational media. This is the essential reference for not only those directly involved in simulations and serious games, but also for researchers and writers, computer game designers, policy makers, and entrepreneurs.

Organized as a style guide, the book includes more than 600 easy-to-browse entries and definitions, divided into key topics with introductory essays highlighting essential concepts. Written by Clark Aldrich—acclaimed educational simulation game designer—the book creates a unified view of capturing skills and knowledge and then developing them in others, through different uses of: computer interfaces, level design, bosses, dynamic systems, game elements, displays, units on maps, skill cones, feedback, assessment strategies, even balanced scorecards and artificial intelligence, just to name a few.

The book covers expected major areas, including Genres; Simulation Elements: Action and Results; Simulation Elements: Systems; Building Interactive Environments; and Formal Learning Programs. It’s not a how-to but a what-is, and explanations and definitions are extended with dozens of helpful, relevant screenshots taken from real sims and games. Some places I stuck sticky notes, left a pen, or made a note in the margin. The challenge is teaching the concept of doing nothing as the correct choice, in the face of an industry filled with heroes who must choose one path or another, and with case studies of leaders who are “bold.” We need to make a simulation both realistic and tolerable because in the real world a complex supply problem will likely not be solved in 15 minutes (or end with a completion form). Neither will a learner sit for four days working through a real-time solution to such problems as: the danger of offering Seussian worlds (in which the learner is tasked with, oh, saving the endangered planet of Snicklewhacks), the necessity of the student experiencing frustration and resolution, the tricky balance of increasing engagement while not subverting learning. And a favorite: A note about dealing with “technology incompetents,” often those who think that aesthetics should override instructional considerations, and that clicking “next” makes a program interactive.

Here’s the thing: if you are an e-Learning designer, especially someone who authors or develops sims and games, the book is perfect. You’ll love it. I promise. Even the index is interesting. It balances tactical (what needs to go into a first level of a sim; what are questions to ask subject matter experts, how should programs be evaluated; when and how should coaches be used) to strategic (what is the difference between learning to know, learning to do, and learning to be; what does situational awareness look like when developing leadership or stewardship). In the spirit of Webster, Strunk and White, and Tufte, filled with helpful guidance and illustrative case studies, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games is the definitive "go-to" bookshelf reference for this generation.

clarkAldrichAbout the author: Clark Aldrich is a global education thought leader, labeled a guru by Fortune Magazine. His experience ranges from spending years working with children at a leading environmental education foundation to serving on boards of universities, of companies, and in the intelligence community.

As well as being an award-winning analyst, speaker, and writer, Clark Aldrich is one of the top five active educational game designers in the world. His educational games have been patent winning, generated millions in revenues, are market leaders in their categories, have been rigorously proven to drive long term desired changes in behavior, and have been translated and deployed in dozens of countries and languages.

Aldrich is also the author of five books, Simulations and the Future of Learning, Learning By Doing, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games, Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds, and Unschooling Rules.

Aldrich's work has been featured in hundreds of sources, including CBS, ABC, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, CNN, NPR, CNET, Business 2.0, BusinessWeek, U.S. News and World Reports.