Social Studies

Social Studies
Ten Myths About Serious Games

Ben Sawyer | 30 Oct 2007 11:42
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Games Are Young Media, So Serious Games Are For Young People
Organizations that commission serious games frequently say games are a great way to reach young people. It can become a mantra at times. The fact is, for all the amazing growth rates, many young people don't play games regularly. Even the most popular games' audiences top out at roughly the size of a basic cable program's fan base.

And the gaming demographic is getting older every year. Considering that serious games often cover sophisticated issues and practices, to say it's a genre for children is just flat-out wrong.

There Is No Proof That Games Affect Anyone
One of the most popular attacks on serious games is no one can agree on what effect games have on people. There are very few studies that have found games can reliably teach. But that doesn't mean games don't affect people. In the health arena, there are several strong studies that show games can be beneficial to the sick. And in cases involving learning, what results exist show that well-made projects do, at least, aid certain types of learners. We definitely need to see more studies, but the cupboard isn't bare.

Game Developers Don't Want to Work on Serious Games; Serious Games Are an Academic Pursuit
Most developers want to work on their game - be it AAA, casual, mobile or serious. But serious games are largely perceived to be an academic pursuit. Academia does have a prominent role in serious games, but professional game developers pursue most of the genre's projects. Increasingly, these developers also operate in the mainstream commercial game market. As more customers require the polish AAA games provide, serious game projects will gradually improve their presentation across the board, which will draw in more financially driven development studios and designers.

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Serious Games Are Games For Good
Too often, serious games are interpreted by people outside the industry as some sort of effort to balance out the industry's ills, as if there is some industry-wide social responsibility campaign. So far, with rare exception, (like Konami translating Food Force into Japanese), the industry's social responsibility hasn't manifested itself in the form of serious games. But that's good. Serious games don't exist - nor should they - as some sort of backhanded apology for the game industry.

Another problem with this particular myth is the genre includes games created with a distinctly political agenda. Serious games are a medium; what passes through them is up to each creator.

Serious Games Are Dominated by the U.S. Military
Early on in the development of the Serious Games Summit, we made a conscious effort ensure a balance between what the military and non-governmental organizations were doing with games. As it turns out, there was never a problem.

While the military is a major player in the field, it's definitely not the only big spender. Healthcare professionals, corporate trainers and huge teaching organizations are all getting into the business, consistently spreading its scope. In fact, in terms of revenue, health and healthcare will likely dominate the field within a few years.

And Then There Were None
Irwin Edman said, "It is a myth, not a mandate, a fable not a logic and symbol rather than a reason by which men are moved." That's no joke. Keep perpetuating anything, and eventually it'll become canon. The key is to question and investigate yourself the myths you encounter daily, especially in a new field like serious games.

Ben Sawyer is co-founder of Digitalmill, a Portland, Maine design and consulting company specializing in innovative applications of games and game technologies. He is the co-founder of the Serious Games Initiative, and the Games for Health Project.

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