Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (2: 3 Queries)

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

These are public postings of my writings for the first course of the Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Game Design and Research at Michigan State University.

Each week, we are also required to post three questions for the rest of the class. These are mine.

Please note: these posts are not intended as any kind of commentary on or assessment of the course I’m taking, or its instructor, OR of Michigan State University or the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, or the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. They are solely my thoughts and reactions that stem from the readings.

Feel free to comment, disagree, or what have you.

Week 2

These are the readings for the week:

  • Ritterfeld, U. Cody, M & Vorderer, P. (Eds.). (2009). Serious games: Mechanisms and effects. New York: Routledge. [Ch. 2, 3, 4, 8]

These are the games:


My Questions

1. What Are You Playing Now?

Ben Sawyer along with David Rejeski coined the term “Serious Games” in relation to digital games. Ben wrote the forward to our Ritterfeld book and has been one of the key figures in the Serious Games movement for the last 10 years. At the various Serious Games venues he helped organize, he always insisted that presenters include a slide in their presentations that shows what games they are playing. Here’s how he explains it on his website:

A tip to those working in, or with videogames… try playing them!

We’re amazed how often people who put themselves forward as experts on games and serious games are far from serious about playing games. We’re quite serious. We now require all speakers at our game events to provide the audience with a list of the last few games they’ve played. We provide the same list for ourselves whenever we speak.

With that in mind, what are each of you playing now? It seems to me that we are primarily concerned with digital games in this course, so let’s just include digital games. Just to keep things even, list at most 5. Games we are playing/reviewing for this course don’t count.

I’ll start: (they’re all DS or tablet games as I tend not to play on my desktop)

  1. Animal Crossing (Wild World)
  2. Resident Evil: Revelations 3D
  3. Flow Free
  4. Machinarium
  5. Legend of Zelda Ocarina of TIme 3D

Your turn ;o)

2. What Does “Serious Games” Mean to You?

Is a game still a game when it is not being played, and can anything become a game if we play with it the right way?What is the “right” way?

A definitional debate over the term “Serious Games” breaks out on some of the game studies forums (like GAMESNETWORK) several times a year. This has been happening almost like clockwork for nearly a decade.

I was in computer science when we went through the Software Engineering wars – there were even threats of lawsuits from engineering associations over the use of the word “engineering”. Ultimately the whole thing blew over and the term became accepted. I am still one of those people who believes that “software engineering” has little to do with creating software and almost nothing to do with engineering. It’s a terrible name for what is really management – however, it is what it is, and how I feel about the term is ultimately irrelevant.

The same is true (or should be) for the term “Serious Games”. While it is crucial to continue to discuss SG design and evaluation – there’s so much we still need to learn – I think the time for arguing over what it means or whether or not you like the term has passed.

What do you think?

3. Is Fun Really Necessary?

Many people in Education seem to believe that fun and education are at odds with each other.

Some years ago I did a survey with public school teachers to see if they were using games in school, and if not, why not. Some of the obvious and significant barriers were highlighted: lack of admin support, lack of resources, lack of time to learn, etc.

The comment that still sticks with me today is this one:

As a parent I object to having my child “play” on the computer when he has completed some piece of work. I want my kids working at school. I can use computer games at home for there entertainment. I also think that “edutainment” as a name is attempting to give computer games some degree of educational value. My students come to school to learn not to be entertained. Would you want your university profs. entertaining you?

I do understand the pressure on teachers to not “waste” time, but the sentiment voiced by this teacher still lingers in the heads of many educators. As soon as we start to have too much fun, educators become suspicious that there is not enough learning happening.

This is something that interferes with our ability to make inroads in formal education with games. While “fun” is typically THE most important measure of viability in commercial games, it is possible that we need to use a different word when it comes to measuring serious games (and just in case you are so inclined, I think “engagement” is too nebulous to be useful).

What would you use instead of the word “fun”?


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