Sunday, May 17, 2009

Virtual Worlds, Simulations, and Serious Games, Oh My!

Alright, this is a reaction post to a post by Clark Aldrich that was his analysis of the difference between a game and a simulation. If nothing else, at least it got me motivated to blog instead of just tweet (are you following me on Twitter? @koreenolbrish).

Clark uses a swimming analogy to demonstrate the differences, and somehow virtual worlds made it in the mix as well. And that's when the trouble started.

Here's a very simple definition of the difference between a simulation, a game, and a virtual world. A virtual world is a framework, an environment if you will. Its a place waiting for context and possibly content. A game is competitive or scored and the goal is to win (although for serious games, we're hoping something is learned in that quest for victory). A simulation is a storyline that typically requires decision-making to determine the outcome, but win or lose, its the journey that's important.

The funny thing is, I think Aldrich's earlier post that describes simulations, games, and virtual worlds as nested concepts, and where he introduces the acronym (ugh, ANOTHER term...) HIVE (highly interactive virtual environments) is actually MUCH closer to how these concepts intersect. And while as a learning professional I applaud the attempted use of an analogy to describe the differences between games, simulations, and virtual worlds, I think he further confused the concepts instead of simplifying them. I'm not going to attempt an analogy, but here's my simplification for anyone who asks what's the difference between a simulation, a game, and a virtual world:

Now I'd like us all to move on and start thinking about how we can design good immersive learning instead of worrying about what to call it, thank you very much ;)


  1. Koreen, I'll respectfully disagree. Technically, a simulation is just a model. A 3D social immersive sim is a virtual world. Blogged about it here recently. I actually think (the other) Clark has it close to right (except I don't really take his distinction between serious game and ed sim).

  2. Blog entries are first drafts, at least for me. I am not sure if that swimming pool piece is useful or even accurate. I like the message that what makes a serious game vs. an educational simulation different is both the tool and the attitude, realizing that a better attitude can increase the effectiveness of a serious game into educational simulation territory, and the other way around. The "fun" of the two dimensional swimming model was trying to fill out some of the boxes that were not immediately obvious. Hi (other) Clark.