Friday, May 15, 2009

Serious Games... Seriously?

As I continue reading and learning more about games, there's one categorical phrase I see repeatedly that always stops me in my tracks: Serious Games.

Every time I see it I have to wonder, "What is a serious game?" To me, the concept of a GAME always implies (or at least makes an attempt at, though some fail miserably) a connection to... FUN! Despite my limited research, I've learned that the phrase describes the type of games intended for simulators and educational purposes. In other words, a flight similator used by the Air Force to train new pilots might be considered a member of this category.

Perhaps I'm making too big a deal over terminology, but I think educational programs of this type should simply be called "simulators." But then someone might argue that they enjoyed the simulator, and so to them it is a game! :) Nonetheless, the phrase just always hits me as an oxymoron.

Have you played any serious games lately? Would you say they were fun?


  1. I had to research and create a serious game for my project in the last year of my university degree. I found that while some serious games are generally simulators used to teach in a very straight forward way other serious games are first and foremost games and have elements of learning and training embedded in them so well that the player (notice I said player) may not that they are learning.

    For example I read about a company who were going to implement a new system. The entire company needed to be retrained but this would be a very time-consuming process involving meetings, scheduling and mountains of documentation. The company eventually came to the conclusion of using game-based learning as as alternative. The game (if I remember rightly) was an action adventure game where the character ran around doing various tasks such as diffusing a bomb. These tasks correlated to learning a particular part of the new system. I'm sure that some documents needed to be distributed but overall the company members learnt how to use the software in an effective, enjoyable and memorable way.

    That's my view of serious games.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kayleigh! You actually reminded me of an example of a great "game first, learning second" game I used to play on a typing tutor program when I was first learning to type. Words would drop from the top of the screen and would eventually destroy three buildings below if they made contact; if you typed the word before it hit your structures a missile would shoot up from a defense tower and obliterate the word. It was a fun game that helped improve typing speed, so I guess it could be classified as a "serious game."

    Still, as a terminological argument, I think I would prefer to call these types of games "educational games" or some other classification. A couple definitions of "serious" from Google include "concerned with work or important matters rather than play or trivialities" and "unplayful: completely lacking in playfulness". It just doesn't sound like a fitting description for a game.

    Just curious, how did the company in your research ensure that learning objectives had been met? Did they require employees to play the game a certain number of hours or win the game? Did employees have to complete a test after playing the game?

    Thanks again for shedding some light on this confusing genre!

  3. I see your point about the 'serious' game title but maybe it's meant to cause confusion so people who don't know about the genre stop and investigate it. Maybe it's just an evolutionary name change of the educational games that we grew up with or maybe serious games are a new sub-genre of educational games because they both set out to teach things right?

    I'll have a look around for more info about that company.