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Businesses and educators to preview video games for training

Madison, Wis. — Three of the top video-game researchers will show off developments in games that offer real-world experience on Thursday at the Fluno Center in Madison.

The Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory, WTN and Accelerate Madison are holding an event titled “Discover how Games are Shaping Business and Learning,” which will center on the rapidly growing market for games that can be applied to the workforce.

The video game industry has experienced exceptional growth over the years, gaining a following of almost 90 million people between the ages of 15 and 35. As the commercial player base expands, researchers at the Co-Lab are trying to develop technology that can be used in industrial and business settings.

“What we're interested in is how video games are the new technology for people under 30, and yet they're something people take for granted,” said James Gee, a researcher at the Co-Lab and a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The new learning recruits in a different way than schools, and gives some ideas in a way outside of schools.” Gee will be one of the presenters at the event and will focus on learning science, and will be joined by colleagues Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire.

Steinkuehler, a UW learning sciences researcher, will show some examples of what the games look like and the impact they have already had on the industry. Squire, an assistant professor of educational communications, will cover ways that games can be fun but also relevant to a business environment.
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“The main message here is that the ADL Co-Lab is excited about the expertise we have here in Madison,” said Judy Brown, director of the Academic ADL Co-Lab. “We've really got the experts here … and we're already on the map.”

The Co-Lab has been involved in several projects to develop learning games and simulations, working with the U.S. Army and Centers for Disease Control. The lab, along with the Federation of American Scientists, is creating a simulation that the Fire Department of New York will use to train fire chiefs. The program produces 3D graphics of high-rise buildings and shopping malls to replicate what would happen in a fire.

According to Gee, video games work so well for projects like this because the people playing them have to rely on strategy. Improvements in technology have made game worlds more interactive than ever before, creating improved AI and intricate puzzles that push players to develop new solutions. They are free to try multiple times without the fear of permanent failure.

“Games don't reward you for being fast and efficient, they reward you for free-range thinking and taking risks,” Gee said. “We'd like to encourage people to take these risks.”

Brown said that now is an especially good time to become involved in the video game market, as the prices for hardware begin to drop and systems become more advanced every day. With this power and adaptability, the trick now is to attract game developers to the projects and divert their attention from the “shoot-’em-ups”.

“They're on the leading edge, which is where we are—wanting to know how we can cross leading, training, and performance support with immersive experiences,” Brown said.

The event will take place in Madison at the Fluno Center, 601 University Avenue, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It will be broadcast live on the Accelerate Madison Web site, using Mediasite Live technology by Madison-based Sonic Foundry (accessible through Internet Explorer only).

Les Chappell is a staff writer for WTN and can be reached at les@wistechnology.com.

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