Posts Tagged ‘Self Improvement Game’

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
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.

Edu-Tainment

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 Gameful.org.

Gameful

Posted: August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Social networks and forums are all the rage. So, of course, the game designing community has set up their own special place for discussing programming idea, design ideas, and the future of games as more than entertainment. As such, Gameful is a fantastic place for people interested in art, design, programming, storytelling and even just in playing games. There is also an extra focus on games that do more than just entertain, or entertain in a new and different way. We’re pushing the boundaries of what is a game and pushing forward towards the future.

The Gameful site is more than just a forum. There are groups you can join to talk about specific topics. There is a classifieds section where people are looking to hire artists, programmers and designers and also looking to sell their own work. There is also a game in place that rewards the user for talking to people, making friends and just generally being a good user. Leveling up in the game unlocks more features for the user, including a blog at level 7. You can scroll through and see a lot of different user’s blogs and find some really interesting stuff. Every user also gets a twitter style status feed that they can use to talk about design work and gaming.

One of my favorite parts of Gameful is the design challenges. At current, there are 4 in progress, each one challenging the designer in a different direction. One of them is based on a game that can introduce complete strangers to each other on the street or in a restaurant. Another is based on using a short game’s mechanics to make someone happy. That’s the mechanics, not the story line or art. The different competitions have what is called a “challenge angel” who donates prizes to the challenge for the winners. Its pretty much full of awesome.


I think that one of the best things about Gameful is that it gives designers a place to go to talk about different ideas in game design that maybe the bigger companies don’t want to risk trying. People can push the boundaries of gaming and what a game can be used to accomplish. You might have heard of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She is one of the minds behind Gameful and it shows. A lot of the themes from her book regularly show up in the design challenges and just in general forum chat.

If you have any interest in games, gaming, design, art, programming or storytelling, I highly suggest you check out Gameful. There are sections for students, professionals, amateurs, hobbyists and people who just want to play, among many many other different groups you can chat in. I myself am a member of 16 different groups including one for student game designers, one for people who want to make educational games and one for people who LARP. I love Gameful and the ideas that are coming out of the conversations on there.

I am all for the betterment of people through video games but it seems to me that a lot of people don’t realize that the game has to be good in order for people to play it. The Biggest Loser for the Wii is one of those games. Have you ever tried to follow along with an exercise video where they use the names for different yoga poses or exercises but don’t once tell you how to do it? That’s how I felt playing this game. Ever heard of upper body twists with knee? Me neither. I can guess what they mean and once the person on the screen starts going, I can follow along, but they dock you points if you aren’t keeping up. To make matters worse, if someone is trying to follow this and doesn’t know how to do the exercises it is possible to hurt themselves pretty easily. I mean, that risk exists with pretty much anything where you don’t have a coach or trainer watching you but still. There are a lot of different ways to make a weight loss focused game without having people get into positions they aren’t in the physical condition to pull off.

So, The Biggest Loser bosts over 60 different exercises and yoga poses, has recipes for healthy food alternatives and has exercise goals that you can set. However, none of that matters, because the user interface is but together so badly that it becomes hard to use. Repeatedly, I went to hit the button to go backwards and discovered that you had to use the B button on the back of the Wiimote, that trying to use what appeared to be an on-screen button would actually start the workout I was trying to exit out of. So instead of me exiting the game, I get roped into another 20 minute cardio session. I know what you’re thinking: turn off the stupid game, right? Ok, sure, you can do that. But shouldn’t the user interface be, well, useable?

So then you get to the exercises themselves. They’re all quite reasonable, the sorts of exercises that anyone should be able to do. But remember, this is supposed to be at least something of a game. I get the whole weight loss thing, and exercise is important, but what this game is missing is that exercise has to be fun. The game is very, very goal oriented but completely lacks any fun factor. This is only made worse by the fact that the game has a hard time figuring out if you’re actually doing what it told you to do. I actually just stood still and moved the Wiimote at one point and got a perfect score and at another point did the exercise properly and got no points.

So here is my biggest complaint about this game. When a game has audio overlays that are supposed to be helpful or whatever, they should really NOT stop each other to play. “Wow, you’re doing a rea-What on earth are you doing?” Yeah, that doesn’t sound natural to you either, does it? This happens to the two coaches in The Biggest Loser game all the time. They’ll be trying to tell you that you’re doing a good job and suddenly its time to do a different exercise, so they have to tell you, so they have the first audio clip turn off and the second one turn on. There has to be a better way to do that.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this game. The workout was intense, but nothing was laid out in any way that was reasonable to use. The audio tracks did all kinds of annoying things. The graphics were comfortably nestled in the uncanny valley where people look like aliens. I give The Biggest Loser a 1 out of 5 hearts. Epic fail.