Can serious games compete with Uncharted?

Serious games are just…games

I keep delving into the different issues clinging to the field of serious games.

I keep pondering whether or not serious games are the right approach to game based learning.

First and foremost, though, I keep wondering why serious games are not better games.

Serious games should be no less “gamey” than any good game out there.

Let’s up the ante, raising the bar even further.

Serious games should be able to go toe-to-toe with any good game out there.

I recently read Serious Games “Ought to be Focusing as Much on the Gaming Aspects as on the Message”, in which Nordine Ghachi points very much in the same direction:

[blockquote]I don’t think that serious games are under threat, quite the opposite. Their time will have really come when serious game creators start according at least the same level of importance to the video gaming potential as to the “serious” message that the game is trying to get across. Let’s imagine a serious game that is so well designed, such a fun game and so addictive that it creates the sort of buzz that Uncharted 3 (Playstation) for instance is doing at the moment[/blockquote]

To get there, it’s important that we shift our focus, and design games where learning is much more as described in The Play’s The Thing:

[blockquote]Many popular games teach important skills and convey valuable knowledge, not in a heavy-handed “pay attention, you’re about to learn something” way, but through the intrinsic challenge-based, problem-solving, storytelling, and, oh yes, fun nature of the games themselves[/blockquote]

Uncharted might be an intimidating example, as developer Naughty Dog is consistently hailed for incredible production value, great voice-acting, effective storytelling and so on. It’s terribly linear, yes, but most players still find it terribly enjoyable (this player included).

That’s exactly why it’s a great example, reminding developers to aim high.

“But there’s not enough money in making serious games, severely limiting what you can do”.

At least two answers to that.

First off, you don’t need to mirror the scope and production values of Uncharted; just the  ambition to actually create a blast of a game, which people really, intensely want to play. Such experiences are not determined by your budget, but by your creativity and skills as a game designer. Indies are great examples of this, never reaching the budgets nor mainstream appeal of Uncharted or Modern Warfare, but providing one fantastic, innovative, surprising hit after another.

Secondly, you could consider changing your perception of your end users.

Usually, developers of serious games have a relatively limited target audience – be it education, corporate training, political campaigns or what have you. Sometimes the game is a direct response to a client, sometimes developers create their own serious game IP. Either way, the market is quite small.

If your game is actually good enough, you should be able to break free of this self-imposed limitation. If your game is as good as any game, you should not consider some educational niche your only possible outlet.

Why not make games for everyone to enjoy?

Make good games, that people actually want to play.

If the game also fulfils specific learning purposes, that’s a nice bonus, but that shouldn’t come first, really.

4 thoughts on “Serious games are just…games”

  1. Thanks for your post, Mathias!

    While I've always been concerned that the term 'Serious Games' is a contradiction in terms (because of Huizinga's thoughts on play) but I have no doubt that many serious concerns can benefit from a playful approach.

    Like you, my main concern is that many 'educational games' are neither educational or games! I've written more about it on my blog ( I think the flimsy games peddled as educational do us a huge disservice.

    I'm with you – let's make them better!

    Thanks again.

  2. The game part of a serious game is not just sugar coating to make the kids (or adults) swallow the message. Good educational games use the game mechanics themselves as a teaching vector.

    I think the whole serious games backlash shows that even those that argue for more games in education suffer from the old idea about games just being fun.

    In that regard I think the idea about aiming for educational games that has the same effect as Uncharted is flawed. Should a good educational movie (or documentary) nesecarily be compared toTitanic or Poltergeist III?

    I don't see an contradiction between serious and play and I think we have to look elsewhere for inspiration than from the good commercial games out there. I have yet to see any real convincing examples of educational games that drew their inspiration from gmes like Unchated and pulled it of. "It" being a tight and effective integration of the game elements and the "message".

    The kids and adults we are trying tio teach through games are well aware that the is a purpose to the game. I they like that. Nobody has anything against learning – but many don't like being taught. Games can help there – be we donøt have to pretend there isn't a serious reason for playing the game.

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