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An analysis of the differences and similarities between serious games and simulations

Rhiannon Holloway, Blogger

July 27, 2020

5 Min Read

Serious games and simulations are different from general entertainment-centric games, and they have a lot of practical purposes. Serious games are made usually to train, persuade, and educate players (Designing Digitally, 2018). A lot of times training will focus on a main task to learn. Serious games often will have the player play a role in a RPG style game where the player will make the decision for an invisible game character (Gamelearn Team, 2019). Serious games teach a skill and usually use gamified tasks to do it. In order for training to remain in a person’s mind, a serious game should be memorable. To keep players interested in the training, serious games will often have stories that players can use to remember their training (Gamelearn Team, 2019). Players should have reasonable challenges that they are able to overcome so that they feel successful. If the task is unreasonably hard, players may feel tempted to quit before they get fully trained or feel frustrated.

Simulations are different from serious games. Serious games can be more gamified, and they do not have to be as realistic as simulations. Both teach skills, but simulations tend to be much more realistic in their approach (Boller, 2017). Simulations are built to train people using realistic scenarios. For instance, surgeons can practice surgery in a VR setting to better prepare themselves for real surgeries. They may not have the direct storylines that serious games do. Simulations can have similarities to serious games and other games. These can include different levels of difficulty, providing challenge to a player, provide player feedback, and even generate emotion in the player (Boller, 2017). Simulations can use advanced graphics or even use more basic ones. A VR surgery simulation may use higher end graphics than a smartphone app that teaches an employee how to speak to customers through text-based choices (Boller, 2017). Both simulate real events, but the way they teach will be drastically different. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning (such as with simulations and serious games) can lessen risk to the player than physically training at a business location.

Just because serious games and simulations are often training-centric does not mean it has to be a dull experience. For serious games, making an engaging story can draw players into the game (Sanal, 2018). The main focus of the game would still be learning, but having fun can help players retain information. The engagement in both simulations and serious games can lend itself to learning deeper than less interactive mediums such as videos or textbooks. Gamified mechanics such as leaderboards, points, and achievements/badges can also keep players playing the game (Sanal, 2018). If a player is trying to get achievements or top a leaderboard, they will be very focused on the game and will likely learn a lot of information along the way. In simulations and serious games, the player may feel a drive to “win” that keeps them in the game/simulation (Arshavskiy, 2015). Increases in difficulty can help drive the player to want to “win” in both types of games as well. Both allow for learning without the consequence of real-life failure. A simulated heart transplant may be intense, but not to the same degree a real one would be for a surgeon. Learning in a “safe” environment can allow the players to learn more with less pressure.

Some positive effects of game-based training include mental stimulation, improved self-esteem, immediate feedback, and collaborative learning (Gamelearn Team, 2017). Mental stimulation in the brain is shown in a couple different ways. Game-based learning has been shown in some ways to influence decision-making and even stimulate the brain with the effect of delaying natural brain aging (Gamelearn Team, 2017). The interactivity of learning helps the player feel more connected to the world, and it can provide a similar experience to hands-on learning with real objects. Games also allow players to communicate with others during training which can make players feel better while learning a new task and help their self-esteem. VR helps a lot with player immersion in training. Serious games and simulations that allow for players to collaborate help players better their understanding during training. Collaborative learning has been known in general to help students/trainees develop higher thinking, oral communication, self-management skills, and leadership (Engaging Students, n.d.).The idea of training may seem dull at first, but serious games and simulations can be made fun.


Arshavskiy, M. (2018, April 18). Simulations And Games: Making Learning Fun! Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://elearningindustry.com/simulations-and-games-making-learning-fun 

Boller, S. (2017, March 13). Games vs Simulations: Choosing the Right Approach for Learning. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from http://www.theknowledgeguru.com/games-vs-simulations-choosing-right-approach/ 

Designing Digitally. (2018, October 17). Gamification, Serious Games, and Simulations: What's the Difference? Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.designingdigitally.com/blog/2018/10/gamification-serious-games-and-simulations-what%E2%80%99s-difference 

Engaging Students. (n.d.). Collaborative Learning: Center for Teaching Innovation. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students/collaborative-learning 

Gamelearn Team. (2019, May 10). How a Serious Game is made. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.game-learn.com/how-a-serious-game-is-made/ 

 Gamelearn Team. (2017, July 04). Serious Games for Training: 8 Benefits that Will Surprise you. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.game-learn.com/serious-games-for-training-benefits/ 

Sanal, A. (2019, February 15). 5 Quick Tips to Create Serious Games. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://playxlpro.com/5-quick-tips-create-serious-games/

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