Inspired by Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on Serious Games and David Helgason’s declaration of the 'Year of Gamification', Serious Games will examine how games and games technologies are being brought into ‘serious’ areas, and serious tasks are being made more game-like.
Games have been present throughout history and across all cultures; they are an essential part of the human experience. While video games have historically been the subject of concern and dismissed as trivial or ‘childish’, they are increasingly becoming tools to achieve ‘serious’ objectives such as education, technical training, and collaborative problem solving.
As Clay Shirky describes in his book ‘Cognitive Surplus’, we are seeing a shift from passive consumption of media to more active engagement, with production and sharing by consumers. Shirky describes how the 20th Century was characterised by an enormous growth in free time, billions of hours a year spent watching television. Games are inherently interactive, with other players or the games themselves. So will games be one of the routes through which this radical change takes place?
The Serious Games event looked at how the following approaches offer tools to tackle challenges beyond pure entertainment.
This page holds a collection of examples, links and videos that relate to the topics we discussed at the event. If we have missed something, please let us know of case studies, talks or articles that you think are relevant.
Here are a few of the examples and resources that our speakers mentioned at the event. If you have others, please let us know: email@example.com
Alex Fleetwood mentioned a book that describes the importance of play: 'The evolution of childhood' by - Melvin Konner.
Jesse Schell gave a great talk earlier this year on game design and the changing environment, including gamification, which is linked on the right panel.
Mary Matthews used a four dimensional framework that was developed by the Serious Games Institute. More about this framework is available in a paper in the British Journal of Educational Technology, 'Learning as immersive experiences'.
Mary also referenced the feedback screen from her Toyota Prius, which has encouraged her to try to beat her fuel-consumption score by accelerating and decelerating more slowly. As an unintended consequence, she said, she had become a more courteous driver.
Alex used Tate Trumps as an example of a Serious Game with game design at the centre.
Re-mission is a game developed by HopeLab, a non-profit organisation to help teenagers with cancer. Its efficacy has been evaluated with a randomised research trial, and found that it improved treatment adherence and increased cancer-related knowledge.
SuperMe is a game designed to teach resilience, and how to cope with obstacles in life. It was produced by Somethin' Else Sound Directions as part of a Channel 4 Education project.
Think Public created The Good Gym: connected people who want to get fit with older people who need visitors. The idea emerged from Social Innovation Camp in 2008 and is running in Tower Hamlets.
He presented at the Playful conference in London on 'Gamification and it's discontents' and the 'badge measles' that are taking over.
Playful hosted a lot of discussion around the issues of gamification. Read the write-up.
PlayStation Game Runners
An experimental project whereby PlayStation, members of the public and young people from diverse backgrounds come together to create social games. There are three games in development: Flags, Blocks and Hoops. Blocks, voted most popular, is a three-dimensional game of strategy and precision movement in which opposing players take it in turns to place a blocks in a 2 x 2 tower. When a player places a block, the symbols on all touching faces must match. As the blocks are stacked, players must not let the tower topple. The games aim to integrate social engagement and game design with the close involvement of young people.
In an effort to counteract the backlash against the possible damaging effects of video games, work has been done to incorporate positive side effects into entertaining games. The following are examples of interesting and exciting developments in the area of positive side effects:
The game Little Big Planet is being used along with Spore as a platform for the President Obama’s initiative on digital learning, challenging people to come up with new ways of learning about science, technology and maths. http://www.dmlcompetition.net
Moshi Monsters also aims to encourage creativity and problem solving. Michael Acton-Smith says “there’s a stealth education element to the game”.
Hand and eye co-ordination
A strong link has been established between game playing and hand-eye co-ordination, reaction times, and dexterity. A study of an elite surgical training course at Beth Israel Hospital showed that game players were more effective surgeons and game skills were closely correlated with surgical training performance. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17309970
Games can also be a jumping off point for accessing other forms of knowledge, as Daniel Floyd and James Portnow explain in this great video and article on Tangential learning. The game doesn't have to be primarily educational to spark someone's interest in learning about Japanese history, or Greek armies, making it more likely that they will self-educate.
The next step for games is in taking design and graphical elements and reusing them for other purposes. Many games ‘engines’, which help to create the 3D environments have been harnessed in areas such as medicine, engineering and architecture. The following are examples of ‘reused’ gaming technologies:
Simulators are one of the oldest ‘serious’ uses of computer game technology and more powerful machines and sophisticated graphics have continued to improve their realism. This has made more complicated simulations possible, such as medical simulators to train surgeons, or educational simulators such as the Visible Body, a three-dimensional anatomy programme.
Another healthcare example is the proof-of-concept game Patient Rescue for training junior doctors, created by Blitz Games. It uses medical data to provide simulated patients, and asks users to make treatment decisions then provides feedback on the patient’s progress. Mary Matthews from Blitz Games will be speaking at the event.
The graphical capabilities of games companies have been brought to bear on CGI projects with games engines such as Unity used for visualising architecture projects, as ZeroFractal has been doing, or for data visualisation and presentation.
Electronic Arts collaborated with Carnegie Mellon University to share the creative assets for ‘The Sims' game to assist with the development of Alice, a programming environment for teaching computer science.
Perhaps the most powerful way that games can influence other arenas is by bringing the elements that compel us to play games to other activities, increasing our commitment and engagement.
Saving the world
Jane McGonigal has helped create the ‘serious’ game ‘World without oil’, which imagines the first weeks of a global oil crisis, and challenges players to solve the problems arising from it. Watch her TED talk on ‘Serious Games’ to find out more about her vision to ‘save the world’ by harnessing the collective efforts of gamers.
Addictive activities: points and rewards combined with interaction
Foursquare is connecting people and generating a database of reviews and tips, in part by allocating points, medals and mayorships to ‘players’ of its game who login and add content. This is an example of applying the rules and rewards of games to everyday activities, increasing engagement in the application.
Play as a way to make mundane tasks fun
The incentives and rewards that come from games are being used by a wide variety of companies to make mundane but necessary tasks more engaging. Nintendo made home fitness into entertainment with the Wii Fit. Mint, an online finance start-up in the United States, has added a ‘Financial Fitness’ element that rewards you for accomplishing tasks such as spending less than you earn, or taking out a savings account. There is even a to-do list application that will reward you with ‘hit points’ as in a role-playing game (Epic Win).
Margaret from Hide & Seek, a colleague of Alex Fleetwood, makes the case that this ‘gamificiation’ is often ‘pointsification’, without adopting any real game elements.
PlayStation Game Runners is an experimental project whereby PlayStation, members of the public and young people from diverse backgrounds come together to create social games. There are three games in development: Flags, Blocks and Hoops. Blocks, voted most popular, is a three-dimensional game of strategy and precision movement in which opposing players take it in turns to place a blocks in a 2 x 2 tower. When a player places a block, the symbols on all touching faces must match. As the blocks are stacked, players must not let the tower topple. The games aim to integrate social engagement and game design with the close involvement of young people.
NESTA’s Policy & Research, Programmes and Investments teams have all been involved in projects relating to games. Here are some examples of this work:
The editor of Wired Magazine responds to our event which asked whether games can change the world
Download his response here
Insider views on video games development
Download the report (PDF)
The state of play in the apps market and the barriers to its development, by David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine.
Download the report (PDF)