• During the HEAT game, players can call up video surveillance, narrow into specified regions of interest, search databases, and display search results in their attempts to locate suspicious activity and persons at an airport terminal.

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Taking games seriously at the Lincoln Laboratory

Exploring games to improve decision-making


Researchers in Lincoln Laboratory's Informatics and Decision Support Group are developing serious games, an oxymoronic term coined for a wide variety of games whose primary goal is not entertainment. Serious games provide players with interactive problem-solving exercises that can serve as tools for a variety of purposes, such as idea generation and concept development, operator-centric technology analysis, and experiential learning.

"I like this definition of games from a book called Rules of Play: 'Games are systems in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome,'" says Adam Norige, a technical staff member in the group who has been very involved in many of the Laboratory's serious gaming initiatives and is participating in the Federal Games Working Group, which brings together government researchers engaged in developing serious games for federal agencies.

Several of the games that Lincoln Laboratory is creating allow participants to explore analytical strategies for exploiting information from multiple sources to achieve the "quantifiable outcome." For example, a game called HEAT (Homeland Enhanced Attribution Testbed) challenges players to use video surveillance feeds and multiple information repositories, such as criminal reports, to uncover latent criminal activity in real time.

Games such as HEAT serve multiple purposes. "The games are part of human-in-the-loop testing of new technologies. They let us see what decision makers do with our technology," says Timothy Dasey, leader of the Informatics and Decision Support Group. Because real-life decision making is not typically "caught on tape" that can be analyzed, observation of what decision makers do during game play can reveal what improvements to systems are needed. "For the players, the games improve their decision-making processes, and because the games are often played collaboratively, they improve teamwork," adds Dasey.

A fourth benefit of serious gaming accrues from its emphasis on experiential learning. Norige notes that research suggests that active engagement in games promotes better retention of learning. "The games could make novices into experts faster," he says.

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Topics: Gaming, Lincoln Laboratory, Research, Staff, Video games

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