Game Based Learning – Interview with Noah Falstein

As I wrote before in this blog, I am in the middle of preparing the conference “SCOPE_07 – The Future of Learning”. We’ve identified a few key forces with great impact of our future ways to learn. Game based learning is among them. For this reason I’ve interviewed Noah Falstein, a freelance game designer and producer who has been in the video game industry since 1980. Among the many popular games he has gained credit for, Indiana Jones is probably the most well known. Noah is also active in the development of the emerging market of serious games.When we talk about game based learning, the discussion becomes very fast dialectic: work versus game, fun versus seriousness, fun games versusserious games. How come?Noah-FalsteinI think it is partly because there seems superficially to be a strong contrast between the idea of teaching or other serious purposes, and fun/entertainment/diversion. Also, people like to reduce things to dialectics!Where are the intersections between these fields?Noah-FalsteinThat’s a very wide-ranging question, at least as complicated as the intersection between study of the mind and the body, or perhaps even art and science. At the risk of oversimplifying, I tend to agree with Marshall McLuhan, who said: “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education and entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter. It’s like setting up a distinction between didactic and lyric poetry on the ground that one teaches, the other pleases. However, it’s always been true that whatever pleases teaches more effectively.”

The more I discover about creating games with training and teaching components, the more I believe McLuhan was right.
Do you have any sociocultural data about game based learning? Is it true, that younger people play more than older ones?Noah-FalsteinI don’t have any hard data. It seems obvious that in general terms that is true, particularly when you use the general sense of the word “play”, not just referring to electronic games. But even with older people increasingly playing casual games online, it is my personal observation that people under 35 tend to play more, and people in college and younger than that more than them.What do you think are the major impacts the game industry could have on corporate learning? Is it the way “traditional” games are developed (in contrast to learning programs)? Is it the engine? Can MMOG be used in corporate learning? … Which potentials do you see?
Noah-FalsteinThere are already many companies making games for corporate training. Two that I have had personal contact with are Qube International (, who have primarily worked with non-electronic games, and BTS ( , a Swedish company that does many games for companies like Microsoft and Intel. But I think the untapped potential is huge. I’ve heard that worldwide, the professional training budget is so big that if even a few percent of it were allocated to game-based training, it would be more than the current entertainment game industry.

MMOG’s can certainly be used in corporate learning on many levels. IBM is reportedly using Second Life extensively already. And someone jokingly told me that he is considering hiring his middle managers from people who run successful guilds in WOW.
What about second life, gaming communities like WOW or the whole VR movement?Noah-FalsteinI think I’ve answered that. Although VR tends to still imply head-mounted displays which have pretty much died off as a possible growth area.

What happened to the data gloves, data helmets ….?Noah-FalsteinThey weren’t ready for commercial use. I worked with quite a few plans to do this over the years, and they never worked very well – at least a third of the people who tried the head-mounted displays got immediate motion sickness. Data gloves are better, but I think the success of the Wii has in part shown that you don’t need to use a glove to get good results for motion sensing.The serious games market is booming. Who are the players? Are there any interdisciplinary teams (teaches, trainers, game developpers …) on the horizon? Do we need them?Noah-FalsteinThere are only a very few game companies that have dedicated themselves to serious games. Breakaway is, to my knowledge, the largest, and it’s not too big. Most of the growth potential is still in the future. So far, there are many interdisciplinary teams that have formed to make serious games, but they are mostly dependent on individuals banding together, not on companies that include all the possible subject matter experts in-house, and I expect things will stay that way for at least the next five years. It’s easier to learn how to work with different experts and bring them in on an as-needed basis than to have them on staff.Do you have any example for a successful business games yet?Noah-FalsteinTake a look at the BTS company I mentioned. Also, Cisco is working on a lot of exciting things – they did a game with Ben Sawyer called “The Binary Game” that is quite simple but very effective and I know that within Cisco they are quite happy with it.

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