Over the course of my University course I learnt about an interesting thing. Serious Games. Not something I suspect you have heard about unless you are a member of the game development community. So what is a Serious Game?
Well, lets start with games everyone knows about. When you go out and buy a game out of your local retailer or off an online store, I can almost guarantee that it is not a Serious Game. The reason is that those games are commercial, and their main focus is entertainment. A Serious Game however focuses on education, in the widest possible sense. They are games that will either teach you something, train you to be able to do something or potentially influence you. Now, I am sure what is now flashing through your mind are silly little games you played back in school on computers to help your maths, like Ghostblasters.
I bet most of those were really dull, especially hen you look back on them now. However, Serious Games strive to so much more. The aim to try to be as entertaining as they are educational. I personally think its an awesome thing, and many people agree. Advocates aren’t just games developers, but psychologists and educators are also interested in these games. The thing is, whether you realise it or not, learning is actually fun, but only if it is engaging.
Remember back to your childhood, you played a lot of different things. Why? So you could learn about the world and your place in it. Games like Hide and go Seek likely started as hunting games back in our ancestors, and in more modern times we may play at being a doctor or cook to prepare us for potential future careers. I bet it was a lot of fun, it was for me. Serious games strive to tap into our primal “Learn Through Play” to make us far better at learning. Sitting down and doing sums or answering questions on history are dull, so why not use games to liven them up?
While that is in its infancy we have actually been using games to teach since before the first electronic computer! Early simulators were built to train pilots, and consisted of a mocked up plane with working controls. It was very basic, but now we have built upon it and have cockpits that move as the pilots fly, and use advanced simulation programs with screens to help them learn to fly. Simulators are a pretty common Serious Game, but not all things called “(Insert random thing here) Simulator” are of course simulators.
As mentioned previously I was doing a University course, and I made a Serious Game (link to it on my Dropbox). It was through this I discovered just how powerful Serious games can be. The game I made was simple, all you had to do was sort the rubbish into the correct bins, getting points for doing so correctly and sounds helped to guide the player to use the correct bins. After only five minutes of playing, everyone who played it learned more about the recycling scheme at my University. They all enjoyed it too, because I imbued it with a little bit of what made Flappy Bird such a success. The game was designed to quickly get impossible, so people kept wanting to beat their scores. It was simple, but it worked.
Now imagine if we had games on the same level as Call of Duty, GTA, Bioshock, Command and Conquer and other prominent titles. Not only would they last longer, but so much more could be put within them. The Total War series is really good for learning little bits of history, so many have actually used as educational tools. If they were more historically accurate, they could easily replace history lessons. Physics based puzzle games could allow learners to not only learn how to do sums, but also to see how they may be used. I remember working out friction forces in physics, but what if a game used a sum I made to try to prevent a man hitting a wall too fast, or too slow? Games have lots of potential as teaching tools.
Influence can also be created in games, though most focus on potential violence (most studies point out its not really linked). However, games can be positively influential too. I bet you never realised that playing Call of Duty with your friends was benefitting your Pro-Social behaviours. Games also carry political messages too. Games like America’s Army were designed to recruit people into the army by showing them what its really like, and even is used to train soldiers about cultural differences. I really like this, and have already mentioned my intentions of developing a game to influence people to see Trans people in a better light.
So there you go, you now know a little bit about Serious Games. Hopefully you’re a little interested, perhaps you’re excited to see what the future may hold. Well why not look it up? A guy I can recommend looking up (we looked at his stuff a lot, and he is pretty easy to read) is James Paul Gee. Here’s hoping this new field of games develops well, because I personally think its rather cool.