Branching Paths

How to Create a Branching Dialogue Game to Train Soft Skills

When it comes to game-based training, a branching dialogue or “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” game is an excellent choice. This type of “scenario” game creates a safe and fun space to learn, practice, fail, and ultimately master critical soft skills. Soft Skills are personality traits/habits such as problem-solving, communication, empathy, and integrity to name just a few. These skills are becoming more and more important to be successful in the workforce. 67% of HR report withholding positions due to lack of soft skills. Seth Godin, marketing guru, says we should stop calling them ‘soft skills’ and instead refer to them as ‘hard skills.’ Hubspot discusses in this article the most important 7 soft skills that anyone should master. These skills are not easily taught but must be learned through trial and error which is why a simulation game is a perfect tool for soft skills training.

When creating a branching dialogue game, it is important to keep the information, story, and aesthetics in mind while working on the mechanics. While the game should be easy to play, let the players (or in the case of game-based training, a learner) enjoy and immerse themselves in the game so that they retain the knowledge. This article will touch on the key parts of how to create a motivating scenario-training game that will effectively teach learners while also touching on the process of making the game itself.

Choices Should be Meaningful

 When making a scenario-training game some of the most important factors are the choices the learners can make. The choices are a significant part of how the learners will immerse themselves. If the choices feel real and important learners will be more likely to retain the knowledge of how their choices impact the game. And remember, in-game creation, not all choices need to be major tests, but they should all serve a purpose. Within a branching dialogue game, choices are a narrative tool as well as a training tool. Not all choices have to be right or wrong; they can simply prompt the continuation of the story, show the passing of time, and/or limit options because the learner has gone down the wrong path. You can have choices that lead to the same place or have some that are just as good as another. Within the game, you will only have a handful of actions that are impactful while other choices help drive the story and consequences forward. But none of the choices should be throw away choices, each one must be meaningful and\or serve a purpose.

Think seriously about the situation you want your employees/learners to experience, what do you want them to do or avoid and what are some common mistakes within the situation. The choices in the game should match the situation and make sense within the scenario as something that might actually happen. There should be choices that are clearly right and clearly wrong. However, instead of treating it like a multiple-choice (i.e where there is only one answer that is right and the rest are wrong) think more of it as all choices are a possibility for an employee to make and what are the effects of each choice, positive or negative. Don’t limit your choices by making one answer obviously correct. Let the learners experience the struggle of figuring out the right thing to do and to do this they need to be able to fail first. Know exactly what you want to teach and let each choice be a way for the learner to experience what it is really like on the job.

Common mistakes:

  • Do not make the choices too similar. This will confuse the learner and not get across what you actually want them to do.
  • Do not give more than 4 choices at a time. This can lead to the learner having paralysis when there are too many choices and may get overwhelmed.
  • Keep the text short. Having long text in choices can lead to fatigue for the learners and they may get overwhelmed.
  • Keep the dialog believable. If the dialog needs to be long, it must remain believable and act like a real human. If the dialogue starts getting too factual/preachy, the learner will lose interest; instead, integrate that information throughout the game.
  • Allow the learners to explore and take wrong paths. Don’t end scenarios if the learner chooses incorrectly. It’s important in scenario training games that they have a safe space to fail so they can experience the mistake and learn from the consequences.
  • Let what happens next be the feedback to the previous choice made. Don’t immediately tell the learner their choice was wrong or right, instead let the gameplay inform them. This is important because if you break the game to explain after a choice it will interrupt the experience of being in a real situation as well as give the learner the information out of context. It’s important to have detailed feedback but save that for the end of the game.

Example:

A Support Net, by OpenLearn is an interactive story-based game for helping people learn how to positively interact with and support others going through difficult times. In the game, the learner chooses between 4 people struggling with different mental situations. The learner explores interaction options to understand each character and through the interaction figures out the best strategies to help that character. Throughout each choice, the learner is never told if their choices are right or wrong but instead experiences what consequences come from their choices, whether they are good or bad. Then at the end of the game, the learner is given a layout of how their choices affected the final outcome and shown data on where they did well as well as where they need to improve.

Aesthetics Play a Big Role

While it may not be a priority, the aesthetics to any game, especially a training-based game, is vitally important in helping increase knowledge retention as well as teaching soft skills. Aesthetics, the visuals i.e. the graphics, lighting, textures, setting details, etc., not only help carry the story but can also help improve the amount of attention the learner will give the game. The presentation of the game helps the learners to engage fully in the story and visualize themselves in the same situation. So, the more enticing the graphics, the more the learners will engage with the story, and the more they engage, the more likely they are to retain the information within the story. Aesthetics also plays into how the learner will connect to the characters within the game. This is important because the characters are the ‘representative faces’ of the real-world people that the learner will encounter and through them, important soft skills can be taught, such as compassion, empathy, communication, etc. which in turn helps the learners understand how to treat real-world customers/coworkers.

When creating your aesthetics for a scenario-based training game it is important to focus on creating characters and/or settings that the learner can connect to and also translate how that connection could transfer to the real world. Concentrate on what sort of people and places the learner would really interact with and how these two things might change the outcome. For instance, if a hotel employee were to interact with a customer in a random hallway compared to if they interacted with them from behind the front desk, would there be a difference and if so why and how? Remember to keep it realistic in the sense that the aesthetics tie together but don’t be afraid to have fun with it. A significant part of games is the visual experience, so the more the learner is captivated by the aesthetics, the more likely they are to be interested in continuing the game and absorbing the knowledge within.

Common mistakes:

  • Avoid the Uncanny Valley. This is especially bad for training games because if the learner doesn’t feel comfortable talking to the character in the scenario, even a little bit or subconsciously, it will most likely affect the end result.
  • If you are going for a realistic aesthetic it’s best to stick to film or photos of actual people.
  • Don’t be afraid to use abstract or animated characters. It doesn’t need to be lifelike for the learner to bond. Plenty of movies and videogames convey emotional connections using animation. 
  • Avoid adding unnecessary navigational text. This only clutters the screen with more text but runs the risk of seeming condescending to the learner.

Example:

         Connect with Haji Kamal made by Cathy Moore for the US Army is a scenario training game that teaches cross-cultural communication and peacekeeping skills to soldiers. In the game, the learner plays as a US Army sergeant in Afghanistan that must help a new lieutenant overcome cultural differences and make a good impression on a Pashtun leader. For such a powerful and important topic, the game follows up with realistically drawn pictures that appear to be actual photos of people and locations. The learner is able to easily identify settings as well as characters making it easy for them to connect and immerse themselves within the game.

Process of Making the Game

Spend time considering the learning objectives and common mistakes employees could/do make. You will want to present those mistakes as options in the game so your learners can go through and experience those mistakes without real-world consequences. The more you can focus on the learning objectives and write them out the better because they will help you build scenarios and narratives that will support your overall objectives for the game-based training. Once you have all your objects written out you can start mapping out possibilities. Creating a flowchart is an incredibly helpful method and will let you see the different branches easily while also exposing any obvious problems, such as too many or too little options. There are several tools that can help with this, such as DrawIO and Excel. With tools like these, you can easily break scenarios into individual scenes and see where they go best.

Once it is mapped out make sure you don’t have any problems with the patterns.

Common mistakes:

  • “Pine tree” problem – this is when there is one long path with a “main/right” end with only a few separations that show other possibilities. This usually happens when you don’t pay enough attention to your “suboptimal” or “wrong” choices and/or end those scenarios too quickly. If you find yourself falling into this problem, try taking another step to further illustrate the consequences.
  • Too many branches – while it’s important to have lots of options, too many spiraling paths can be a problem as the overall message could get clouded. If this starts to happen, think about reducing content as needed. To avoid this possibly try conjunction spots – these are spots that will take the branches and funnel them through a certain event and then continue outward from there. This will help you keep your message on track as well as clean out unnecessary paths. Example: hotel scenario – at some point, the learner will need to give the customer a key card, and whether the customer is happy or angry from past options, this action still would occur. So, the reaction could be slightly different, but the overall action is the same and only certain actions can be taken from there.

Once your story is mapped out you will need to put it in a game engine to test it and make any adjustments. The Training Arcade®, by The Game Agency is a great example of a way to test out your simulation/choose your own adventure training game. There are many options to choose from with their scenarios game design option. You can easily create complex branching scenarios by simply uploading images and/or videos and typing in 3-4 dialogue options per discussion point with no coding required. You can make your training game multilingual as well as multiplatform. Finally, a powerful testing tool is an analytics dashboard to help you see data on how your employees do with the game.

The Training Arcade® analytics dashboard is engineered to unveil patterns of individual and group engagement with your material. The dashboard will help you understand the ROI of your training ROI by revealing knowledge gaps, personality behaviors, and group comparison. You can sort topline data including the number of users, scores, rank, sessions, session duration, % of questions correct/incorrect, and total questions answered. 

The Scenarios game in The Training Arcade® is a fantastic branching dialogue game mechanic. Educators can create simple linear games all the way to complex branching scenario paths using an array of storytelling tools (animations, videos, photography, voice-over, and text). The game can be created by the training manager or Instructional Designer with stock videos and stock assets and deployed instantly just be sharing a URL or by downloading a SCORM package for your LMS. Or if you need a more custom solution, we can help you with imagery designed to your needs and we can take your script, hire actors, and create relatable videos.

Email us at info@thegameagency.com for a demo or to discuss your next project. 

 

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