Communicating with Serious Games

Serious games have been defined as a game whose primary function is something other than entertainment. Educational, training simulations, rehabilitation, art and propaganda are variations of this concept. Serious games are not just educational tools, they can provoke thought and action in their players through player choices, context and gameplay.

Designers create these games because they have a message or an experience they wish to share with an audience. Serious games is a broad genre that covers games that designed to teach users particular skills and impart information, experiences that offer different perspectives and challenge our preconceptions of issues, events and ourselves.

Why achieve this with a game? As Bryan Moses demonstrated with Alternator, games are valuable educational tools that can help change behaviour and thinking. A serious game is not just about the education of the player, it also involves the education of the designer. One of my university group projects was to create a game that provoked discussion about climate change.

One of the earliest problems we had was lack of information about the topic, from its causes, solutions and the arguments surrounding climate change. We also had to balance fun, game play, information overload and avoid preaching to players. These factors can influence player engagement and response; an overload of information can bore the player while skimming over the issue detracts from the game’s message.

A game becomes an effective medium at delivering a message if it has been designed to keep players engaged and treats its players, concepts and itself with respect. Creating and playing games that have these qualities helps create better and more diverse choices for players and designers. Developing more of these games can raise awareness of issues like the effects of climate change, mental illness, historical and political issues and events.

The following games were created to communicate ideas by challenging players’ biases of ideas and through respectful treatment of topic. These are examples of designers who sought to raise awareness by focusing on the concerns of minority groups.

Molleindustria‘s Phone Story is a mobile game aimed at educating people about the brutal realities that make up the mobile market by making them aware of their role as part of the troubled supply chain. Using a phone to deliver this game helps consolidate the game’s purpose, critique its platform, provides commentary on the mobile industry and changes the perception of its users.

Escape from Woomera (EFW) asks its players to engage and question the issues surrounding detention centres by placing them in the shoes of a asylum seeker detained at the Woomera facility. EFW is aimed at empowering players to confront the issue and encourages them to form their own opinions.

Games like these also prompt minority groups and aid organisations to consider different outlets for representation and communication. Their issues and serious content can become accessible to a broader audience through games.

Not all games can highlight all the information and viewpoints that concern serious issues. Balancing accuracy, information biases and tone is a difficult task for any designer. However, by playing and making these games, we can encourage different experiences to be told and created to avoid misrepresentation and misinformation.

The interactive qualities of a game make it an excellent medium for allowing designers to create engaging, meaningful and interesting experiences for players and providing the player with choices that can change how they think or causes them to reflect on decisions made. It is an empowering to design experiences which inspire players to learn, enjoy themselves and produce positive change.

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