Archive for March, 2012

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!

The Types

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

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.

For more information on serious games and the Gameful movement, you can go check out the Serious Games Initiative and

…whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of that obnoxious paladin and the churlish bard or to take arms and beat them soundly about the head with your cudgel and by opposing end them.

There are two major types of games in the world: PVE (player versus environment) and PVP (player versus player). In terms of the table top experience, PVE is the players coming together against the world as created by the GM and PVP is inter-player fighting. In most cases, PVP is the result of having two characters in a party that disagree on matters of alignment, such as a paladin finding out that one of his new companions was a lich. In some cases, however, it is more the situation that the characters just have temperaments that do not mesh well such as a ranger or druid being thrown in with a scientist who destroys nature in the name of his research. In the campaigns I’ve seen or played in, PVP has racked up more character death than PVE ever has. So that begs the question: is PVP worth it? That depends. There are ways to make PVP be disallowed in world instead of just telling the players they can’t. You also might end up with players who want PVP to be an option. You need to come to an accord between the GM and the players. If everyone supports PVP, then go for it. You want to make sure that you don’t alienate anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with PVP interactions.

So lets say you have decided that PVP is allowed. Lets cover some ground rules. First and foremost is for the players: do not let in-game PVP become out-of-game animosity. If you ever feel like your characters not getting along is proving to be a problem to your friendship, then either one or both of the players in question need to drop from the game or the game needs to end. Remember that you’re playing to have fun. The next thing that everyone should remember is that PVP should not be allowed to get in the way of the story the GM has written for you. If you ever find yourself in a situation where PVP combat or animosity keeps the plot from moving forward or combat lasts for more than a session, then you should stop and seriously reconsider why you are playing.

Now here are some reasons to consider why you might want to engage in PVP combat or allow it in your world. For one thing, I’ve seen some really interesting games that were based entirely around the concept that the players were gladiators and almost all combat involved some PVP. These can be amazingly fun games and it can be on the whole a great experience.  Another reason to include PVP is to add a level of verisimilitude to your world. I run a magical school setting for my game, and PVP is allowed, though discouraged. But I discourage it on the in-character level of sure you can fight some, but the Professors aren’t going to take it kindly if you kill or maim another student. Take a look at the real world, PVP is allowed but discouraged by things we like to call laws and morals. If your character is lacking on morals and flexible about laws, then logically speaking you should be able to punch the person who makes you angry.

Ok, so lets allow PVP but find in-world ways to discourage it. The easiest way is by having laws or rules and enforcing them. Particularly if the NPCs enforcing the laws are more powerful than the PCs. This doesn’t work, however, if they choose to have their PVP away from anyone who might stop them. But on that hand, why not let them go at it as a reward for finding a way to get around the rules. Its all up to you, oh GM, but remember to let the PCs have fun.

Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing you can do is to remember that all of the players are in this to have fun (including the GM). No matter what kind of game you’re playing, people should come to the table as friends (or strangers…it happens) and leave as friends.