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?