Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Project X: Serious Games

Russ Pitts | 30 Aug 2006 16:59
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We don't talk a lot about the Serious Games movement here at The Escapist, at least not as such. If you look back at our growing library of feature content, however, you'll see that we've been covering the genesis and various impacts of the movement under the guise of addressing the more serious aspects of entertainment-based games.

In other words, we take all gaming seriously, so the idea that some games could be more serious than we take the industry as a whole ... well it boggles the mind, quite frankly. Just thinking about this, in fact, reminds me of a toy box I had as a child. It was about the size of a footlocker, and had a picture of Raggedy Anne and Andy on the front of it. They were standing next to a Raggedy Anne and Andy toy box, on the front of which was a picture of Raggedy Anne and Andy standing next to a Raggedy Anne and Andy toy box, on the front of which ... you get the idea. As prone to bouts of space brain as I was as a child (and still am), this toy box blew my mind on a regular basis. The day I found a full-length mirror and set it beside the toy box is the day I discovered that I'd never need drugs. Ever.

Nevertheless, those who are serious about Serious Games are even more serious about them than we are about games as a whole. And they're getting more serious about them every day. The term Serious Games itself is an attempt to differentiate the games and techniques employed by the people making the games from games and techniques intended for mere entertainment. Serious Games are designed to teach, build, grow and do other things one wouldn't normally equate with fun; the primary motivation one assigns to those who seek entertainment.

Yet as MIT Professor, and general all-around "smart guy" Henry Jenkins tells it, that definition may be too strict. It's just as possible to have fun while learning as it is to learn while having fun. In fact, many of the games that are assumed to be pure entertainment and/or wastes of time by those who've never played one are in fact creative tools for learning in their own right, and feature just as many mind-boggling frustrations and time-consuming obstacles as any other constructive pastime.

Mr. Jenkins cites sporting activities as relative hobbies which reward the player in spite of the difficulties and outright work required of the player. Who would argue that playing on a softball team is a waste of time? Yet try to convince your employer to support the formation of a company WOW guild, and you'll have it.

Anyway, aside from the blogtastic devolution of this topic into the usual "parents just don't understand (gamers)" debate, it's interesting to note that universities, the military and others are cranking up their attempts to tap in to the increased gaming consciousness of the American public. What will come out of all of this remains to be seen, however. But if chimps can learn to fly planes with flight sims, anything is possible; even learning how to be a better employee by playing a game. The "learn to be a better employee" WOW mod would be a hit around here, I can tell you.

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