As I have gone down the road in researching and writing about virtual worlds and serious games, one of the biggest issues for me has been the lack of a comprehensive source for a lot of the terminology and concepts I’m having to learn about and understand. That’s why I was pretty excited when I found out about Clark Aldrich’s The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games: how the most valuable content will be created in the age beyond Gutenberg to Google, which was just published this month (October 2009) by Wiley. I immediately had to get my hands on a copy, and I have been using it almost daily since it arrived.
One of the first things I should mention, and something that’s been highlighted by the author himself and other reviewers, is that this book is meant to be a reference work, almost a glossary, and not really meant to be read straight through cover-to-cover. It’s designed to help you learn about the terminology and concepts of serious games and simulations, and gives you short entries summarizing everything from the basic actions within sim environments to the elements involved in building those interactive environments. The author is aiming this book at people who are involved in designing and producing the content for serious games and simulations, so it’s not a tech-heavy book. The author, Clark Aldrich, has produced a number of previous works on virtual worlds and how they can be used in education, and The Complete Guide continues that focus by providing what I think is a nice go-to book for educators, academics, and other non-developers who are trying to utilize serious games and want to be able to understand what they are working with.
For those of you out there who are thinking about creating a serious game or educational simulation or even using one that already exists, feeling like you don’t really understand the gaming mindset or the vocabulary of gameplay can be a big impediment to taking the plunge. It’s definitely a critical issue when you have to convince a dean, principal, or your boss why what you want to do is a valuable educational exercise and not just playing around (Believe me, I’ve run into that one a lot). That’s one of the areas where I think The Complete Guide is especially valuable. It defines a lot of the basic design and gameplay concepts that go into making and using sims, so you can get yourself up to speed without having to spend hours and hours surfing the Web or interviewing your kids, and you can feel more comfortable conveying that knowledge to the people that you work with or that you have to convince.
On the down side, I do wish some of the entries in the book were actually a little more detailed, even if it is over 500 pages. There are plenty of images and diagrams to help you out, but I didn’t see any related online or interactive content, which would have been nice to help demonstrate some of the concepts related to gameplay design especially. Still, that’s a fairly small criticism, and the author, Clark Aldrich, does maintain a really informative blog on topics related to simulations and serious games, which you can read here. I should also note that The Complete Guide is available in hardcover and on Kindle, although the author himself does not recommend buying the book on Kindle, simply because he sees the work as a reference that you’ll want to go back to again and again for short passages. The book is a little pricey, so it’s not necessarily a purchase for the person who’s just curious about serious games. If a lot of your work is related to the topic, like me, or you’re really interested in utilizing and designing simulations for educational purposes, I think it’s a good reference book and would also be a smart purchase for libraries.