In this post, I’m hoping to clear up some of the phraseology within games. While I will save “gamification” for another day, I wanted to make sure that you understand the “movements” that surround games. There are several types of games movements that games that are not used solely for entertainment purposes may fall into. Each of these movements has clearly defined goals and their own communities, and some games might cross over from one movement to another.
The most obviously relevant movement for our purposes is the Serious Games Initiative. This initiative initially started as games designed for ‘serious’ purposes, but has since evolved into games for education. Serious games has become an acceptable term for educational games as it hosted conferences dedicated to the use of games in education and training for many years. The Serious Games Initiative, founded by Ben Sawyer has remained a community for designers, developers, academics and practitioners who are interested in the use of all types of games and game technologies in their learning endeavors. Serious games span all age groups and are related to all types of educational goals. The most interest recently has been related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) games. Many federal and private organizations have released requests for proposals for games centered on the topics of STEM in an attempt to motivate students to pursue STEM related careers. The recent interest in STEM games is attributable to the findings of the 2010 report to President Obama which found that students in the United States continued to fall behind in STEM related career intentions, setting this country into a position that will prevent it from continuing its technological and scientific prominence in the world.
Other serious games topics might range from K-12 to adult learning games running the gamut from early literacy skills to assembly line fast food training. Serious games have been used in the military for decades, but have also continued to serve as interesting forms of media that are ingrained in our culture. One of my favorite games currently is Dragon Box +, a game that starts out with evolving monsters by matching tiles from one side of the screen to the other, but through multiple levels begins to reveal itself as a game to help students understand balancing an algebraic formula. It is aesthetically pleasing, easy to play, compelling, and accomplishes the rare task of actually teaching.
Another movement that has gained momentum in the games industry is Games for Change. Their self-assigned mission is to “Catalyze Social Impact Through Digital Games”, which means their games focus on gaining a new perspective of society and the issues it faces. While some of the games that remain a hallmark within the Games for Change movement involve experiencing and learning about different perspectives like Peacemaker by Impact Games, a game that allows a player to make critical decisions from either side in the Iranian/Palestinian Conflict; some games actually allowed their players to make positive impacts on the world. Foodforce, developed in 2005 was developed by Konami in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme and actually created donations to world food aid in impoverished areas. Other types of games might focus on community awareness, safety, food handling, farming, the environment, elections, the national budget, saving sea lions and just about any social issue you might think of. The Games for Change movement is currently co-led by Asi Burak & Michelle Byrd who host an annual festival in New York City in which hundreds of attendees from various types of commercial and federal organizations can come together.
The last major movement in games is the Games for Health Project, which was started as a subsection of the Serious Games Initiative, but will host its 9th annual Games for Health conference in 2013. The types of games that are targeted in this initiative have some crossover with Games for Change and Serious Games, but are all aligned with health. Key examples of this initiative might include Re-mission, a game about designed by HopeLab to increase understanding of the disease, its treatment, and to refocus kids and young adults with cancer on the psychological aspects of fighting the disease. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the first Apps for Healthy Kids contest, urging game and app developers to design apps geared towards helping the fight against childhood obesity. The game winner of the first contest was Trainer, a game developed by students from the University of Southern California which allowed players to train with their creature pets. Other games within the Games for Health Project focus on delivery of health care and medical training while others took advantage of advanced technologies like the sensor based game Zombies, Run!, designed by Naomi Alderman which tracks a players runs and helps increase speed and distance by incorporating zombies into their running routine.
All of the movements for games have seen the development of amazing games that demonstrate innovation, creativity, and a true desire to serve as a benefit to learners and individuals. The types of games used in these movements vary widely and can encompass a large variety of play dynamics and styles. Regularly understanding the state of the industry in all of the movements can help organizations stay informed on what advancements and types of innovative uses are being accomplished, so try to keep an eye out!