This dissertation examines improving the design process for creating videogame-based learning for first responders such as firefighters and soldiers involved in crisis reactions. The researchers assessed the evolution of a specific game through the lens of an aspect of social learning theory, termed Communities of Practice, in order to come up with a simple set of guidelines for a game design process that corresponds with this theory. The goal for the study was to shed light on how more and better games could be developed for first responders in the future.
The problem that the research addresses is that, while the potential for such videogames for learning, termed Serious Games, appears to be very high, the actual number of effective games available for first responders is still very low. A major reason may be that past game designs have not taken learning theory into account. This is not surprising, since Serious Games are relatively new, and many game design teams have their primary design experience in creating entertainment, not learning, games.
This qualitative research project utilized grounded theory methodology, with an instrument consisting of open ended in-depth interview questions. Christopher Harz focused on the point of view of the game designer community during the research, while Pamela Stern examined a game user community, specifically that of firefighters. Both sets of participants in the study—designers and users—were asked questions to determine how they functioned during the game production process, how users behaved within the game context, and how the two groups interacted with each other. The results of their interviews and investigations support the view that both designers and users function within Communities of Practice (CoPs); concomitantly, they need certain types of support to function optimally, including effective communications, the ability to collaborate, the availability of content experts, as well as authentic contextual settings and scenarios. The research results spell out how these aspects of CoPs appeared within the game context, and how the results of the interaction between the two communities—and the resulting new meta-community that formed from their interactions—influenced the process of game design and development.
The researchers suggest areas of further research on technical and conceptual areas that could further improve and speed up Serious Game development, including userware, software that enables users to augment or customize the gaming environment on their own, and a Fourth Place, an environment that could enable game user and designer communities get to know one another, exchange vital information, and merge into a meta-community with a common mission and purpose.