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Nov 06, 2011

About serious games

“Serious gaming” is a growing trend that is attracting the attention of the industry and the research community. Basically, a serious game is a virtual interactive simulation, in which players learn skills and competences that can be then applied in the “real” world.

The adjective “serious” refers to the fact that these games that are designed to not only entertain users, but have additional purposes such as solving a problem or promoting change at the individual/societal levels. By engaging in simulations of real situations, participants try to reach a the game’s goal by enacting specific strategies and behaviors.

Advocates of this approach claim that serious games foster motivation to learn, offer immediate feedback, support skills development and facilitate knowledge transfer. In addition, by playing in a virtual world users can experience their own actions to be effective, thereby gaining a feeling of self-efficacy. However, these claims have received so far little empirical evidence because research in this field is still in its infancy; in particular, few studies exist to date that have assessed the effectiveness of serious games beyond usability evaluation.

The aims of serious games can be various, ranging from business training, educational or social campaigns and promotional activities. Ben Sawyer and Peter Smith have proposed a taxonomy of serious games  which include the following categories:

  • Games for Health
  • Advergames
  • Games for Training
  • Games for Education
  • Games for Science and Research
  • Production, and Games as Work

Games for health are used to improve public health education, assist rehabilitation/therapy and enhance wellness. An example is SnowWorld, a virtual reality pain distraction game for burn patients developed by Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson (video)

Advergames (a portmanteau of "advertising" and "gaming") are used to advertise a product, organization or viewpoint. Games for training are designed to train employees in variety of domains, including commerce, business, industry, emergency services, and the military. For example, Luca Chittaro and colleagues at the HCI lab of University of Udine have created a a 3D game for improving decision making skills of nurses working in ambulance services (video).

Games for education are games that combine education and entertainment in order to teach people about a certain subject, expand concepts, reinforce development, understand an historical event or culture, or assist them in learning a skill as they play” (source: Wikipedia). Ratan and Ritterfeld (2009) reviewed a total of 612 educational games and provided a classification along four dimensions:

  • primary educational content;
  • primary learning principle;
  • target age group;
  • platform.

In this paper published on the Journal for Computer Game Culture, Johannes Breuer and Gary Bente provide an in-depth discussion on the relationship between serious games and learning.

Games for Science and Research have the specific purpose of helping scientists in processing complex data (i.e. the Folding at Home project, video) or improving the public understanding of science.

Another example is Power of Research, a free online strategy game designed to inspire more European young people to choose research careers. The category Production include games designed for supporting the development/manufacturing of new products. Finally, Games as Work refers to games that players use to earn money or other type of material rewards (i.e. professional gamers, games designed to collect funds or donations).

In sum, interactive serious games represent an interesting new trend in HCI which has several implications for cyberpsychology research and practice. Actually, although serious games are proliferating and applied in a number of different domains, several issues remain to be addressed concerning their design and evaluation. Research topics that are relevant to the field of cyberpsychology include, for example, the definition of methods/procedures/guidelines for assessing games outcomes and the elaboration of underlying theories (i.e. Flow, Presence etc.) that explain psychological mechanisms elicited through serious game play.

More to explore

Here, we provide a list of web resources related to serious games.

  • Serious Games Initiative is a site focused on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector.
  • Serious Game Classification This site provides collaborative classification system suited to Serious Games, based on multiple criterias. The games are classified according to their gameplay, their purposes, their markets and target audience, alongside with user-contributed keywords.
  • Ludus Project is the website of the EU-funded project LUDUS, which aims at creating a European network for the transfer of knowledge and dissemination of best practices in the innovative field of Serious Games.
  • Serious Games Market is a blog providing information about recent market trends in the field of serious gaming.
  • Serious Games Conference is a conference that explore the world of serious games.
  • Serious Games Summit focuses on the application of videogames in training, health, education, behavior change, science, advertising, and general productivity.

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