All Games Are Serious!

Today a classmate of mine, Aaron Houssian, presented his research plan for a serious game framework.  His well-done presentation and this interesting discussion prompted me to think about serious games of all varieties. 

According to Wikipedia, a serious game is a software application developed with game technology and game design principles for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.  The goal of serious games may be advertising, education, persuasion, simulation, or marketing.   I would argue that this definition needs to be expanded to all games, even those with the purpose of pure entertainment.   

Games are artifacts, and like all artifacts they have cultural (and other) values embedded in them.   These games then subtly shape the thinking of the people who use them.  Thus, video game designers (perhaps unconsciously) embed values in games that ultimately shape the thinking of millions of people.  

Note: When I say shape games shape our thinking, I don’t mean that after you play GTA you will rob a car.  It is more subtle cultural things that we might not even notice at the time but may affect our thinking in the long run.  For example: In The Sims 2 it is impossible to cross dress you character. 

The problem for me is in the terminology ‘serious games.’   Calling games whose primary purpose is other than pure entertainment serious implies that other games are not serious.   The assumption is that the designers of other games should entertain people, not persuade or educate them.  But all games do these things, whether they mean to or not.  It is very important that ‘non-serious’ video game designers realize this.

So, I propose that we deem all games serious games, even if their main goal is entertainment.  This will hopefully encourage game designers to be reflective and critical of the values they are embedding in to the games.

 

ps – Jeff, this post was done before Sunday, talked about games, and mentioned cross dressing avatars.  Extra credit?

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14 Responses to All Games Are Serious!

  1. thismarty says:

    Will Wright once said that he can’t understand why people are always talking about “educational games” when, as far as he is concerned, all games are educational.

    Anyway, don’t be too upset. “Serious games” is more of a marketing term than an ideological one. Sort of the same way the game industry MBA’s call things like The Sims and Second Life “games” even though they technically are not “games”, so much as say, simulations, toys, community platforms, etc. It just helps keep the SKU’s under control.

  2. houssian says:

    My presentation on my capstone is published here for those who weren’t there (Jeff I was going to send you the link anyway, pls do flip through it when you get a chance).

    My gut reaction is that both Roedl & Marty are right, and the distinction between games that are explicitly designed to teach, and those that are not is artificial, and can obscure some valuable insights into the nature of the medium.

    Video Games, perhaps even more explicitly than many other HCI artifacts embed culture, judgments, and stereotypes. I haven’t caught up with the ongoing spat, but I’m sure that plays into this discussion as well.

    So why do we make the distinction? Yeah, it’s marketing, and it has some buzz, and some money flowing into it ATM so that’s why I’m latching onto it. Honestly I just love games, and I think there is a lot to learn from them, whether they are explicitly made to teach or not.

    So I think this means that maybe one of us needs to edit the Wikipedia entry? I’ll get right on that just as soon as I finish my other stuff…. so…. in 2012.

  3. Gimhyewon says:

    I didnt realize that “These games then subtly shape the thinking of the people who use them. Thus, video game designers (perhaps unconsciously) embed values in games that ultimately shape the thinking of millions of people. ”
    For me, games is always serious to perform not only entertaine games but also serious ones. 😦 Actually, I didnt like game since I have to feel tension when doing it, and I have to think how to survive in the environment. hmm… But I am going to think about what is a game, how we can design for game interface/interaction. Thanx David. you make me think about it more because of your article.
    You know, Now I knew your name exactly, and your hair style is so coooooooooooooool. 😉

  4. Gimhyewon says:

    houssian! I got it! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Aaron’s Blog » Blog Archive » My 5 min Presentation on Serious Games

  6. houssian says:

    Oh also, I just finished a blog post (link to it at the top) but here are the relevant portions again:

    Essentially what Dave was saying in his post is that all games are serious, and teach people something. The difference between a “serious game” and just a game is that it was designed with the intent to teach, and that was explicitly made part of the game. Keywords: intent, explicit. All games teach, although it may not be what people think.

    Some people think violent video games teach people to be violent, making it into a causal relationship. Kid A plays GTA, GTA in turn causes that kid to be violent. Perhaps we can put it in terms of influence, or that it sends the message that certain things are OK. I don’t really know, but it’s pretty clear from the millions of people who have played very violent games like say Contra, Duke Nukem, or pretty much any of the early space games (space invaders, galaga et al) who haven’t become violent (yet?!) that there is more to this question.

    What’s the take home message here? Everything we make as designers embed values, judgments, prejudice… in short we embed a piece of ourselves and our culture in everything we make.

    What does this mean for us? My reaction to this is, Hey Aaron, be the best man you can be! So that when you make your next game that explicitly teaches, it will make the world a better place.

  7. davidroyer says:

    @Aaron –
    “My gut reaction is that both Roedl & Marty are right,” Roedl = Royer, I understand the confusion though.

    @Hyewon
    Yeah, I think this same principle is important for all interface/interaction, even if it is not a traditional game. & thank you for the name / hair cut love.

  8. davidroyer says:

    @ Aaron –
    “What does this mean for us? My reaction to this is, Hey Aaron, be the best man you can be! So that when you make your next game that explicitly teaches, it will make the world a better place.”

    That is good. I also think this means for game designers the same thing Diana Forsythe / Hakken were trying to communicate to people who program expert systems. Be aware that you are programming values in your artifacts (games in this case). Reflect on this and make sure the values you are embedding are the ones you mean to.

  9. houssian says:

    @ Royer & Roedl
    lol
    Sorry!
    So this is even funnier, I thought Roedl wrote it, so I went and even looked up how to spell his name correctly.
    The Daves are so entertwined in my mind that you have become one!
    I was so confused with Hyewon’s comment because I thought, “Roedle didn’t get a haircut, I mean he trimmed his beard like a week ago or something.”

    As if I’m not confused enough with my brother Dave, my brother-in-law Dave, my cousin Dave, and my two cousin-in-laws Dave.

  10. datrushurtz says:

    Aaron, I loved your presentation and think you’re going to have a great time researching this topic. I too agree, though, that the word “serious games” should probably to be better defined. I understand your mission, but without a narrower definition, it may hard to design an applicable framework which will apply to the majority of games you are referring to.

    I have another question, though. Is this framework you are building going to apply to serious games on all platforms or are you just thinking about computer games? A good framework for designing a game which uses with a keyboard and mouse may different than how you design for a game with a PS3 controller, which may be very different than how a designer should create a game for a Wii Remote.

    A good example might be the game Brain Academy for the Wii. It’s a “serious game”, but I believe it does a poor job of utilizing the Wii Remote in a way to educate the kids who play it. Figuring out a framework to design for serious games on other platforms may be interesting.

  11. davidroyer says:

    @Aaron

    “I was so confused with Hyewon’s comment because I thought, “Roedle didn’t get a haircut, I mean he trimmed his beard like a week ago or something.”

    Dave Roedl doesn’t trim his beard. His beard trims him.

  12. Tyler Pace says:

    @datrushurtz

    Another great example is Brain Age for the DS which is a phenomenal game and an inspiration for interaction and serious game designers. The interaction capabilities of the DS are paramount in the success of the game and are used exquisitely.

  13. ps – Jeff, this post was done before Sunday, talked about games, and mentioned cross dressing avatars. Extra credit?

    Yes. Instead of a “C,” I have generously upgraded this post to a “C+”. Please thank me on the course evaluations in December.

  14. Pingback: All Games Are Serious!

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