Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation & Gaming (December 2010)

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 41, 6 (December 2010) is now out:

David Crookall’s final article on debriefing, I think, raises a particularly important set of points:

However, what is of far greater concern to me and to the journal, and should be to the field, is what is being done on the learning ground, in the guise of game, serious or otherwise. In these events that we run, one thing that is not being done as much as it should is proper debriefing—that is, the occasion and activity for the reflection on and the sharing of the game experience to turn it into learning. The concern with debriefing seems to have been lost in some recent developments, particularly in some of the work accomplished under the banner of serious games. I have come across books with serious game in their title, but with not a single mention of or reference to debriefing. This gap occurs despite an entire S&G symposium in 1992 being devoted to the topic, guest edited by one of debriefing’s most articulate proponents, Linda Lederman, and containing S&G’s third most cited article (on debriefing), by Linda. It is as if a whole history of scholarship has been overlooked, at best, and sidestepped, at worst. Things seem to be changing, however. Some serious game scholarship is beginning to look at debriefing. Maybe the technological glitz is wearing off and the learning is beginning to shine through.


In my view, we will neglect debriefing at our peril. If we accept the basic idea that the real (solid, lasting, meaningful, and deeper) learning comes not from the game, but from the debriefing, then we as gamers are shooting ourselves and our learners in the foot by neglecting the debriefing phase of the gaming process. For all their wonderful creativity and enthusiasm, some serious and other gamers seem to have forgotten that the learning comes from the debriefing, not from the game. That is putting it starkly, but it reflects a fundamentally crucial part of the learning process involved in the gaming experience. Debriefing is the processing of the game experience to turn it into learning (to paraphrase Dave Kolb).

Others may think somewhat differently and consider that learning has occurred and that “such learning is not dependent on the existence of a debrief. A good debrief, however, allows the individuals who were in the experience to share, cross-fertilize, and to generalize their learnings from and between all who participated in the same experience.” (Joe Wolfe, personal communication.)

However, we are not as far apart as it may seem. First, debriefing is recognized as essential, and second, sharing is common to both views. Some learning often occurs while a game is being played, but deeper lessons are drawn and drawn out in a debrief- ing session.

If we are going to take our serious gaming seriously, and if we wish educational authorities to accept them as a legitimate source of learning, then we need to do it seri- ously, which means debriefing seriously. In many of the games that I run, the debriefing is longer and more engaging for participants than the game itself. It is in the debriefing that my students and trainees really “get serious.” I have said elsewhere, and others too have said it, that game design should start with the place where the participants are going to learn, that is, with the debriefing. At the very least, the debriefing should be a design consideration right from the start.

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