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Serious Comics

I attended  ComicCon  again this year, and addition to the wild costumes, crowded exhibit hall, and over-priced food, there are a series of sessions. They cover television, movies, and print in a wide variety of markets.  And I like the sessions that aren’t associated with popular media (as waiting in lines is something I’m fairly averse too).  One I saw this year (not all of, for several reasons) was particularly thought-provoking.

As background, when I was approached by the Australian Children’s Welfare Agency, many years ago, to do a game to help kids who grow up in ‘non-parental’ situations, they’d already spent their money on a video, and a comic book, and a poster.  As far as I know, it was the first serious game you could play on the web (and I’m happy to have that disconfirmed, but as I’ve thought about it and tried to find out to the contrary, I haven’t found to the contrary). And back then we didn’t even have the label ‘serious game’!

And I’ve been a fan of serious games since before then (my first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games).  In fact, one of the reasons I went to grad school was because  I saw the connection between adventure games and learning, but it wasn’t clear they were commercially viable (at that time).

But I didn’t think about the comic book much.  I got a copy as part of the overall launch when the game was released along with the other materials, so I’m sure I read it (it may even be lurking somewhere in a cubbyhole somewhere, though could also have been the victim of a move or a tidiness binge).  And I’ve argued before about how graphic novel and such formats aren’t used enough in learning.

So this session was on serious comics, and it of course resurrected those thoughts. One panelist opened about how they were using comics to spark reading, and I was reminded how apparently the original Pokemon games (not Go, though that was obsessing my kids on the trip) required and consequently sparked lots of reading. The second speaker introduced how he was using comics to spread STD/HIV awareness. These are actually both serious issues.

Of course, I was also reminded of an interactive comic book I once read on my iPad that had games interspersed that advanced the storyline (I couldn’t finish because I couldn’t complete one of the games: I’ve little time to spend developing the necessary ‘twitch’ skills).  However, more serious games, requiring applying the knowledge available through the comic, could provide an embedded practice environment.  It’s sort of a blend between a pure comic and a pure game, for important outcomes.  And this is very doable in ebook formats, even if the ‘game’ is just a mini-scenario or several, but with HTML 5 embedded you could do more.

I once wrote that in the future there would be lots of little interactive ‘learnlets’ that would teach you anything you needed to know (including how to make learnlets 😉 and games or even interactive comics are what I meant and what could be pretty close to ideal.  It’s been doable for a while, but now it’s doable pretty much with commercially available tools (e.g. not requiring custom programming).  We can make learning ‘hard fun’, and we should. So, what are you waiting for?

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