A report released a couple days ago by BMC Medical Education, titled "Medical student attitudes toward video games and related new media technologies in medical education", lends weight to something most of us in the training and education field have known for years - the more immersive the learning experience, the more effective it can be.
The 'gaming' aspect can be a wildcard. It's difficult to balance the gameplay with the actual learning. Where the gaming aspect can certainly increase motivation and interest, that has to be well balanced with the training objectives. There's not much sense in playing a 'serious game' if there is little actual learning being achieved.
Medical Daily has a good summary of the study but they just lightly touch on the actual 'gaming' aspect. Virtual Environments != Games. VRE's would seem a no-brainer in training enhancements, but layering the gaming aspect on top...while it may well increase motivation...isn't a simple as adding another layer to your favorite birthday cake!
Another significant issue with virtual environments, and especially those with a gaming AI included, is cost. 3D development continues to become more affordable and accessible, but it still ain't cheap compared to more standard training approaches...though it can certainly be argued a positive ROI is possible, if not likely.
2D simulations are more affordable by far, but not as immersive. Perhaps the next study should involve research into these two types of approaches... Does a 3D VRE really offer that much more cost/benefit over a 2D VRE?
Then, of course, does the gaming layer offer an additional, quantifiable, advantage?
A couple years ago, George Washington University licensed our Inquisiq LMS as the portal to their 'serious game' titled "Zero Hour: America's Medic" allowing users,
...the opportunity to build on and apply your skills as a medical first responder within a virtual environment.
A demo of the game is available from the site. We should follow-up with them to see just how popular and effective the site and game has been...
The game itself is a locally-run executable, not a web-based product...and that was largely due to the increased complexities of creating a 3D VRE for mass appeal that can run in a browser. With current advances (i.e. Second Life), this is more possible but, again, more expensive.
In sum, there is tremendous potential with virtual environments and training, especially in complex procedural like medicine...and while it looks like the interest and attitudes are there, it may be some time before the costs and funding are on-par.
(and, of course, if you are interested in exploring the various options, advantages, and costs between more traditional approaches and 2D/3D environments, we'd be happy to walk you through the details!)