The Way Ahead for Serious Games

The Way Ahead for Serious Games

Jan Cannon-Bowers (University of Central Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-739-8.ch017


Despite the fact that people have been playing games since before recorded history, the field of Serious Games—as a scientifically valid and viable area of investigation and application—is really in its infancy. In fact, the rise in availability and popularity of video games is a relatively recent phenomenon and actual applications of video game technology to serious pursuits are relatively rare. That said, I believe that Serious Games are coming into their own, and predict that the next few years will witness an explosion of new games, design features and guidelines, success stories, and scientific findings regarding their effectiveness. How quickly and fruitfully this happens depends, in part, on how well the community of researchers, designers, developers, evaluators, and end users can come together to systematically conceive of, and deploy games for serious purposes. Haphazard attempts—i.e., those that do not build on the findings of others’ experiences—will retard the speed at which viable games are consistently produced. Likewise, rigorous evaluation of those games that are developed cannot be neglected or future developers will likely fall prey to the same problems and pitfalls as their predecessors.
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Clearly, a unified field of Serious Games is not possible until an agreement can be reached about how Serious Games are defined. According to Sawyer and Smith (2008), there is a tendency to equate Serious Games with those devoted to learning or training, but they strongly disagree with this position. Instead, they list a variety of labels that have been used to describe different types of Serious Games (I’ve added a few to the original list); see Table 1.

Table 1.
Serious Game Labels (adapted from Sawyer & Smith, 2008)
Alternative Labels for Serious Games
     Educational Games
     Learning Games
     Training Games
     Games for Health
     Health Games
     Virtual Reality
     Virtual Worlds
     Alternative Purpose Games
     Digital Game-Based Learning
     Immersive Learning
     Social Impact Games
     Persuasive Games
     Games for Change
     Synthetic Learning Environments
     Game-Based “X”
     Games for Good

The problem with this group of labels is that many are used to refer to the same type of game (i.e., that have a common goal). For example, some people use the term “educational game” while others may use “immersive learning environment,” but mean the same thing. Alternatively, lumping together all games that have some kind of learning as their objective and calling them “learning games” is probably not meaningful since there may be very different applications within this space.

As an alternative to this loose collection of labels, Smith and Sawyer (2008) contend that what is needed in the field is a better way to define and discuss the various kinds of games that have been produced or that can be conceived.

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