SeriousGames - New York University

Understanding “Serious” Games
Jonathan Frye, Ed. S.
New York University
Essential Game Elements
• Huizinga (1950)
• Free activity, outside “ordinary” life, not “serious”
• Absorbs the player
• No material interest or profit
• Distinct Boundaries of time and space
• Caillois (1961)
• Free (voluntary), separate (time and space)
• uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, make-believe
• Salen and Zimmerman (2003)
• A system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined
by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome
Definition serious games
• Bergeron, (2006): “a serious game is an interactive
computer application, with or without a significant
hardware component, that: has a challenging goal,
is fun to play and/or engaging, incorporates some
concept of scoring, and imparts to the user a skill,
knowledge, or attitude that can be applied in the
real world.” (pg. xvii)
Advantages of Games
• Motivation/Engagement
• Interactivity
• Mechanic is the Learning
• To beat the game is to learn the message/skill
• But only when done right, very difficult
• Beyond content to problem solving/systems learning
• Adaptive to the Learner
• Real-Time Assessment
• Analytics/Data/Log Files
Simulations and Games
• Squire (2003) examples of uses:
• manipulate otherwise unalterable variables
• enable students to view phenomena from new
• observe systems behavior over time
• pose hypothetical questions to a system
• visualize a system in three dimensions
• compare simulations with their understanding of the
system (p. 5)
Goals of Serious Games
• Flow (Csikszentmihalyi)
• Balancing challenge
“Transfer” Knowledge
System Understanding
Attitude/behavior change
Taxonomy of Serious Games
(Sawyer & Smith, 2008)
Sectors (Sawyer & Smith, 2008)
• Government & NGO:
• Defense:
• Ex. America’s Army, Skills based training
• Healthcare:
• Ex. Surgery Simulations, Check-up routines
• Marketing and Communication:
• Ex. Product placement, use of company characters
Sectors cont. (Sawyer & Smith, 2008)
• Education
• Ex. Math, Science, current events etc.
• Corporate:
• Ex. Training, continuing education, company policy
• Industry
• Ex. Training, Skills acquisition
Learning & Education
Health Sciences
Science and Research
Sawyer & Smith, 2008
Learning & Education
• Any subject you can imagine
• History/Context, ex. Quest Atlantis, Civilization
• Math, ex. Dimenxion M, Lure of the Labyrinth
• Physics, ex. Waker, Crayon Physics
• Biology, ex. Beetle Readers
Health Sciences
• Training/Practice for aspiring doctors and nurses
• Ex. Conducting an exam; the steps involved in surgery
• Uses with Patients
• Psychological/Physical Therapy
• Education
• Ex. Re-Mission
• “Advergames”
• Using product themes and characters in games
• Product placement within a game (similar to in
• Often about learning tasks, policies, or skill
• Employee
• Military
• Ex. Situational Awareness training
• Ex. America’s Army
Science and Research
• Ex. Military research using simulated environments
• Ex. Sharkrunners
• Art
• Brenda Brathwaite’s
“Mechanic is the Message
• One Falls for Each of Us
• Train
• Statement
• Games for
• Human Rights, Economics,
Public Policy, Public Health,
Poverty, Environment, Global
Health, News, Politics
Games for Change
• Ayiti
• Manage a rural family in Haiti
Darfur is Dying
Budget Hero
Climate Challenge
• Conflict in the Middle East
• Newsgames (Bogost et al., 2010)
• Ex. September 12th
Class activity
• Get into groups of 2-3 and play a game from the website
• Topics to discuss/think about:
• What is the learning objective?
• Is it part of the mechanic?
• How would you assess learning?
• Is the game engaging?
• How could the design/mechanic be improved?