A limited number of studies have provided insight into the relationship between games and learning; however, for the most part, ‘‘empirical research on the instructional effectiveness of games is fragmented, filled with ill-defined terms, and plagued with methodological flaws’’. One researched area has been the impact of video-gaming on perceptual and motor skills.
For example, video-gaming increases the visual attention capacity of players. Another area of study relates the motivational value of games. Research has shown that incorporating game features into military training enhances motivation, which leads to greater attention to training content and greater learning retention. Other studies have shown improved learning outcomes in terms of accuracy of recall, better recall of procedural information than factual information, and more accurate recall of images and spoken text than printed text
In addition, playing video-action-based games affects cognitive skills related to visual attention . Research-based studies of multimedia learning also provide relevant findings for game design. Adherence to principles of split attention, spatial contiguity, temporal contiguity, modality, redundancy, and coherence can reduce cognitive overload and promote learning.
Evidence about learning outcomes from serious games or massively multiplayer online role-playing games is scant. With limited information available in the literature, some suggest that there are a variety of educational opportunities in serious games. Thusfar, there is limited evidence that games provide different ways of seeing and understanding problems. MMOGs raise awareness in topics promoted by the MMOG environment, such as ‘‘Smokeout Cafe´’’ and ‘‘Becoming a UNICEF World Hero’’.
MMOGs have also affected the behavior and attitudes of players such as the increase in military recruiting through the MMOG America’s Army. In addition to increasing public awareness and effecting attitudinal changes in players, there are indicators that MMOGs offer an opportunity to engage in long-term thinking that may be overlooked or unavailable in real world practice
Learning and MMOGs: Characteristics That Promote Learning
In today’s world of massively multiplayer online gaming, there is still little consensus regarding the essential characteristics of instructional games and how they should be implemented. However, many attributes of games make them pedagogically sound learning environments. MMOG game play includes ‘‘all the traditional characteristics of problem-solving—problem representation, conditions, goals, procedures, strategies, and meta-strategies—as well as shared practices typically found in problem-solving contexts within formal and informal instructional contexts—debriefings, theorizing about the problem space, apprenticeship, and the valuing of seeking out challenges just beyond the current level of one’s ability, whether you are level 5 or 55.’’
Learning: MMOGs Fill Gaps in Existing IED Training
IED and counter-IED training must be examined in terms of what soldiers must know and do and how to best train them to do it. ‘‘The ability of our current adversaries to innovate and rapidly adapt their techniques continues to highlight gaps in U.S. conventional force capabilities’’. A writer for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, called attention for better integration of what is taught and how it is taught.
Based on a review of the literature and information about IED and counter-IED training, evidence indicates a need for additional, continuous, and deliberate practice with feedback throughout training. Opportunities must enable soldiers to practice in an environment that is as close as possible to the real-world environment in which tasks will be carried out, immersion into the dynamic system of cultural and situational awareness, and further development of leadership. However, much of the initial training takes place in classrooms with too few opportunities to practice.
There are several ways in which MMOGs might assist in filling the gaps in current IED and counter-IED training. The suggestions that follow are presented within the concepts of context, immersion, currency, and practice with feedback.
MMOGs Training: Context
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games offer a context within which cooperation is required for success. Working in a cooperative learning environment involves the ability to learn and work as a member of a team. Therefore, it is essential that the learning environment promote team interaction. Cooperative learning is an instructional approach that uses teams of learners who‘‘work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning’’.
Although they may know the signs to look for or the procedures to follow, they need more exposure to the environment and opportunities to test their individual and team skills in the environment. If an MMOG can provide a realistic training environment in addition to the live-action role play in field exercises, soldiers can conduct virtual missions and preparations for deployment. The MMOG context also provides an opportunity for simultaneous leader training and practice within an environment that has a degree of fidelity and authenticity.
MMOGs Training: Immersion
MMOGs provide players with an opportunity to become immersed in a simulated environment that may more closely resemble the anticipated theater of operation than the standard qualification range, gunnery, or urban assault course. It has the potential of providing a persistent environment where soldiers could practice mental skills with less need for administrative organization and physical facilities. They also can see consequences of actions over time and can move to a third-person view in which they observe the broader operation and theater.
Authentic contexts involve ‘‘practical application of knowledge in a real-life situation that allows examination of the information from multiple perspectives’’. The concept of anchoring instruction in authentic contexts derives from research into knowledge acquisition and transfer issues. According to the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV), abstract knowledge stripped of contextual clues is more difficult to learn because the learner does not see its relationship to problems encountered in real life. Abstract concepts can be memorized, but then this knowledge becomes inert or unusable because it lacks the complexity of understanding needed for application to new situations.
Learning anchored in real-life experiences results in richer knowledge structures with multiple connections that enable greater understanding and transfer. Authentic contexts can be provided through scenarios, case studies, themes, problems, issues, and real-world experiences represented in massively multiplayer online gaming environments. MMOG-based IED and counter-IED training scenarios set in realistic environments will provide soldiers with complex learning experiences for developing the necessary skills associated with IED detection and defeat.
Another perspective of immersion is that soldiers must become part of the environment to learn to think like the enemy and see what the enemy sees. They must experience the environment as a team and learn how to learn from each other. An MMOG provides the potential for soldiers to enter the game as their own self represented as an avatar or enter through a different role than they would perform in the actual theater of operation (e.g., as an Iraqi woman or Iraqi military police instead of a Humvee driver or checkpoint guard). By immersing oneself into a different character, the individual cognitively processes information from a different perspective, trying to reason what the character would do in the given situation.
MMOGs offer the opportunity for mental and emotional immersion in a sense of realism for both their own roles and responsibilities and those of their battle buddies or adversaries. Furthermore, by providing the possibility of a third-person perspective of first-person action, players can gain a better understanding the IED system as a whole.
MMOGs Training: Currency
Adaptability and flexibility are key skills when it comes to defeating IEDs. Because the decentralized adversary is constantly changing and new intelligence information becomes available daily, soldiers need to be current on information. MMOGs potentially offer a way to disseminate information updates, develop new methods for effective communication, and practice adapting tactics, techniques, and procedures according to the latest intelligence.
MMOGs Training: Practice With Feedback
By their very nature, massively multiplayer online role-playing games involve the practice strategy of role playing. As a type of simulation activity, role playing is a dramatization of an event or situation; the situation usually represents a problem or a situation that is anxiety provoking. It differs from other simulation learning activities in that it is an unscripted scenario; the learners act out a problem in a completely spontaneous manner. Within an MMOG, players have the ability to repeat similar scenarios, incorporating
lessons learned from previous trials.
This is a particularly useful strategy for practicing communication skills and dealing with conflict. It is also a proven practice strategy for helping learners explore the issues involved in complex social situations in which a wide range of behaviors is possible. ‘‘Role play also provides opportunities for deep learning along with a process for confronting our existing ideas about how and why certain things happen, breaking them down, and offering a new model or set of postulates to replace the old ones’’. The goal of role play is to engage the learner in real-world thinking and problem solving, and this strategy has been useful for developing individual and team contingent competencies.
Educational theorists consider feedback and reflection to be a critical part of active learning. Reflection deepens the quality of learning and helps learners create meaning from experience to serve as a guide for the future. It is ‘‘the vehicle for critical analysis, problem-solving, synthesis of opposing ideas, evaluation, identifying patterns and creating meaning—in short, many of the higher order thinking skills’’. Therefore, to maximize learning, reflective activities such as the army’s process for informal after-action reviews (AARs) need to be included in the MMOG scenarios. Not only do these reviews provide immediate feedback, but they also promote shared understanding and team development.
Research has shown that shared knowledge and shared team understanding go through cycles. Initial understandings often break down during task performance and then build back up, usually stronger than before, when reviewed after task completion. Each interaction of team performance is assumed to strengthen the team shared mental model, which improves team performance. Rather than scheduling one AAR at the end of an activity, AARs can be held in the MMOGs environment after each identifiable event so that each phase of practice becomes a live learning process.