Training Tips for Ships

Tip #40
Gamification in Maritime Training: Serious or Just Play?

The use of computer-based games for training purposes has been garnering increased interest over the past several years. In this article, we look at “serious gaming” or “gamification”, and whether this tool can be used effectively for maritime training.

By Murray Goldberg, CEO, Marine Learning Systems

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So - what is gamification or a “serious game”? Generally, a serious game is any game-like program with a primary intent other than simple entertainment. Like all games, there will be a “reward system” to encourage achievement, but the primary purpose will, in our case, be learning.

A reward system is a means by which a user gains some explicit or implicit reward by succeeding at the game. We are all familiar with reward systems such as scoring points, competition with other players, gaining access to new game levels, and so on. Reward systems can also be less explicit. For example, an implicit reward may be the satisfaction of accomplishing a difficult task, or the satisfaction of learning something new.

As a more concrete illustration, consider a conventional bridge simulator in which a trainee is required to perform a set of navigational tasks. In order for them to progress to the second task (“next level”), the trainee needs to achieve a specific level of competency (their “score”) on their current task (“current level”). In addition, the number of attempts and scores achieved at each task are recorded and posted publicly (“leaderboard”) for all trainees to view. In this example, we have “gamified” a traditional simulation exercise by introducing a reward system using points, unlocking new levels and the ability to compete with others.

With the ubiquity of on-line learning and simulation in maritime training, what does gamification bring to the table? If we believe the proponents, serious games can increase motivation, increase engagement, and teach complex content that is difficult to achieve with traditional learning.

As it stands now, most trainees are motivated by their need to earn a credential or to get a job. Most are also motivated by the desire to be safe and competent at work. What if we could create a training experience so engaging that learning is no longer “hard drudgery” but “hard fun” instead? If we are able to increase motivation and engagement sufficiently, we could end up with trainees who enjoy their training, spend more time learning, and go well beyond the minimum level of learning required to pass the test. This is a core goal of serious games.

Serious games can also have other interesting educational attributes. For example, teamwork and team dynamics can be experienced by engaging a group of trainees in a game which requires them to work together and achieve a common goal - similar to their work environment. Team members can experience personalities and real team dynamics first hand. Serious games can also require higher order thinking skills such as risk/reward weighting and thinking through problems as a whole and in detail.

The adoption of serious games in education is still in its early stages. And while there is research analyzing their effectiveness, the evidence is not conclusive. However, there are many individual studies which conclude that serious games improve participation rates, improve teamwork, increase time-on-task, improve training completion rates and more.

Whatever the consensus is on their effectiveness, the use of serious games is growing. They are used in training for the military, the aviation industry, academia, and yes - the maritime industry. This trend towards gamification is likely to accelerate as more technology and effectively designed games continue to emerge.

Thank you for reading and until next time, keep well and sail safely!

About the Author:

Murray Goldberg is CEO of Marine Learning Systems. Email:

October 2022