The Gameful movement is taking the indie game design world by storm, but what does it mean? What is a “serious” game and how do those two words together even make any sense? That is what I will be talking about today. The raw basic idea of what a serious game is can best be defined as any game that has a purpose beyond entertainment. These can come in several different varieties from the traditional educational game to the advertisement or training simulation or even a socio-political game. Gameful is a specific movement where game mechanics can be added to anything to help make the real world a better place, in particular, adding points and achievements to doing good things. Without further ado, on to the definitions!
Adver-Games are any kind of game that is trying to get the player to buy some product outside of the game. They generally speaking use the product or the product’s mascot in some situation where they make it seem fun or exciting. Its like an advertisement only better because the player is invested in the game far more than they would be in a simple commercial. Adver-games don’t tend to be Gameful, given that they’re just a more audience inclusive version of your standard commercial.
The edu-tainment category is a vast array of kinds of games, but for the sake of today, I’m going to define it down to any game that seeks to impart information of an academic or practical nature. This means that there are two types of games coming in under the Edu-Tainment umbrella.
The so-called Educational Game is the traditional type of game that most people think of when they hear Educational Game. They impart knowledge and information, typically geared to children, and include happy games, usually of the arcade style. Reader Rabbit and the Magic School Bus games are really good examples of this. Educational Games are quite Gameful.
The other type is Training Simulations. These teach a person how to perform a job or how to handle a situation. Many companies use these to train their employees, up to and including the military and police departments. They are particularly useful for teaching people how to handle volatile situations without putting them in danger, such as a police simulator that teaches officers how to handle various situations with possibly armed suspects. These can also be quite Gameful.
Persuasive Games fall into the dubious category of socio-political games. These are any kind of game that is trying to draw you over to the developer’s point of view. Darfur is Dying, Super SOPA Bros and ICED are good examples of the genre. These games can be made through a serious delivery of facts, or through comedy, or any other direction the developer wants to attempt. A lot of the really volatile ones about situations that the developer considers to be horrible will tend to be done through shock factor. These, of course, are very Gameful. I’ve seen some very good games that reward the user for doing good things, for talking to strangers, for cleaning up their homes and for almost anything else.
So now that we’ve defined the types, what makes a serious game good at what its trying to do. Well, the first rule (and the one most often overlooked) is that the target audience has to want to play it. It turns out that doing math problems on a computer doesn’t make doing math any more fun if you don’t like math. But if you make it an action platformer where you have to catch the proper answers, or a puzzle game where you have to slide tiles around to solve problems, it becomes much more fun. The second rule is that it has to impart whatever it is trying to impart, be it information or an opinion or even just a commercial. Adver-games are the simplest to succeed at but have the downside of most people can identify that they are an advertisement. Educational games are also reasonably easy, for a young audience. Training simulations have to be painstakingly accurate in order to be effective. Persuasive games are their whole own can of worms. Sure, you have an opinion. Everyone does. But can you convey it well? Can you make it sound reasonable? Can you avoid sounding like you’re crazy? Theses are all important concerns which have been failed countless times in the history of persuasive games.