Evolution of Multiplayer Educational Simulations: Board Games to Broadband

Seth Sivak, Mark Sivak, Jacqueline Isaacs, Jay Laird

Over the past decade, both massively multiplayer games and simulation games have reached new levels of sophistication and enormous mainstream audiences. In the “serious games” world, simulations have long been the standard for educational gaming, while massively multiplayer entertainment has recently been adapted for educational purposes. However, we have noticed that there has been little intersection between these two areas: why are there very few, if any, multiplayer “serious” computer simulations?

In this talk, we explore the work that has been done in creating multiplayer simulation board games, and we explore the implications of moving such work to the computer. What are the advantages of the computer-based simulation? What are the obstacles to make such a simulation successful, versus a board-game equivalent?

For our case study, we use “Shortfall”, a game designed to educate undergraduate and graduate engineering students on environmentally benign manufacturing in the automotive industry. The students are divided into three teams, where each team is a step in the assembly line: materials, parts, and cars. The students work within their team and budget to try to create the most profitable and green company. The game also uses both cooperation and competition to entice its players to immerse themselves in the education aspect in order to excel. Recently, we have undertaken the adaptation of “Shortfall” into a multiplayer computer-based simulation, working from the assessed learning outcomes taken from the board game. We will share the trade-offs we have discovered in the process, including the shift in learning objectives when players have the computer doing the “hard work”. The drastic change into multiplayer computer-based play reduces the controlled contact between players and creates difficulties in developing an interface that mimics the simplicity of a physical board game while still opening up the complexities enabled by the shift to a computer game.

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