Monday, 28 November 2011


The first post on a blog that's going to be about serious games in the realm of video games.

Now that I've pointed the obvious (cause of the name and all), let's go!.

What is a serious game anyway?

These days everybody turns to the internet for their answers, as do I. More specifically Wikipedia must have the answer! However the disappointment unveils itself.

First of all how do you define the "game" part in "a serious game"?

We are not directly talking about the technology called game because this can be everything from a jump rope to a hyper-dimensional cube. We are talking about the activity itself.

Wikipedia mentions that Clark Abt (1970) gives a formal definition in his book Serious Games;

"a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context."

Agreed a game is an activity, a game like everything else has a limiting context defined by rules. However like the card-game "patience" games can be one man exercises with at least a virtual opponent like a limit (aka high score).

A second definition is suggested by Mike Zyda (2005) supposedly from a mix of dictionary definitions though no sources are reported.

"Game; a physical or mental contest, played according to specific rules, with the goal of amusing or rewarding the participant."

Here he also talks about an activity, contest specifically. It may be mentioned that this may well be a contest to reach limits or stay away from them, like keeping your "sims" alive in the game classic "the Sims".
Rules and indirectly limits are also mentioned. The funny thing is that by this definition a game is either physical or mental, though in my mind games are always partly virtual (and therefore partly mental) because the creation of a game requires mental space with rules and limits. In this definition there's even a goal involved namely the amusing or rewarding of a participant. However a goal is always relative to the gamer and should be kept far away from the definition in my opinion.
For example: a participant of a game (aka gamer) might just as well play a game together with friends to have a jolly good time. Is it the game that provides the amusement and rewards or the friends he invited over to play with? It might be an intended goal from the game developer but this is not relevant. Uses and gratifications provided by a game are not limited by a game itself but also the context.

The definition I derive from this is the following:

A Game: is an activity of at least one independent entity engaging in a contest to improve one self in constraint of rules and limits set by the technology called "game". This may have side effects like amusement or rewards.

I find this definition satisfactory especially because no goals are involved and the technology of a game itself is mentioned, linking the play to its basic architecture.

Secondly how do you define the "serious" part in "a serious game"?

This part is shredded in mystery. It may well be something you have to engage in thoroughly like serious drinking though this is probably not the case. Wikipedia like many other sites mention clearly that the serious part comes from the subjection of entertainment a goal set by a gamedevellopers to a mostly educational goal in the mind of the gamedevelloper. There should be a clear distinction between the goal in mind of the develloper and the actually reached goals in the mind of a gamer. A serious game I once played about a boy in darfur was created with the educational goal of awareness in mind however the only goal it reached in my mind was frustration because it was so poorly created. The trick in my mind is to create the game in such a way that the goal of the gamedevelloper is reached without disturbing the gamer.

Serious: subjection of entertainment as a goal of a "game" set by a gamedevelloper to a mostly educational goal.

Now for a synthesis.

What is a serious game anyway?

First of all the technology:
A Serious Game: a technology that provides rules and limits to play "a game" with the purpose of reaching an educational goal set by it's creator.

The activity itself:
A Serious Game: is an activity of at least one independent entity engaging in a contest to improve one self in constraint of rules and limits set by the technology called "game". With the intended effect set by it's creator of reaching an educational goal.

Well that's it for today next time it's time to go past the definition.

Abt, C. (1970). Serious Games. New York: The Viking Press. in Wikipedia Serious Games Source:
Wikipedia Serious Games. Source:
Zyda, M. (September 2005). "From visual simulation to virtual reality to games". IEEE Computer.