An introduction to serious games

What is a serious game? And why should the accessibility of such a game be any more urgent for someone with any disability than the accessibility of any other computer game?

The term
‘Serious game’ is a term generally used for a category games mainly found in computer games. But what is it that makes a game a serious game? The answer lies in the purpose for which that game is made. Most videogames are created solely for the purpose of entertaining its players. No other purpose besides ‘fun’ or ‘an interesting experience’ is usually needed as motivation to create a game and even if there is such a purpose, it is usually secondary and not very important. Serious games on the other hand, are different. While ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyment’ are still things to be aimed for, they will not be the main purpose for the existence of a ‘serious game’.

Serious games Darfur is dying
Darfur is dying is a serious game about the situation in Darfur. Click on the image to play the game.

What would then be the purpose of a serious game if not to entertain its players? It can be anything really, as long as the purpose is different from the normal purposes of a game mentioned earlier. Even so, there are still purposes that more games are dedicated to than others. One purpose towards which a large amount of serious games in our modern times are aiming is the spreading and/or teaching of information. A serious game can be meant to educate the player, to convince them of something (like in advertising) or even to pass on warnings. Another main purpose for serious games in our time and age is health. Digital gameplay has evolved to the point that the actions a player takes by himself can have an extra purpose besides the basic information they convey. Games can for example be played using certain movements now. When the game takes care and pays attention to which movements it asks of its players it can be used for training and even for health practices.

Games these days are becoming more and more just another medium to convey things with. The ways this can be done are being explored. Serious games can be -and are- used for many purposes, especially in our digital age. Games are used at schools to help both kids and adults learn while playing, in healthcare and during job training. But since games have started to fulfill more and more important roles like these the urgency for them to be made accessible for as many users as possible is rising.

The purposes mentioned earlier are what serious games are used for most often today. This has not necessarily always been the way they were used. The newness of digital games and the existence of the term ‘serious game’ aside, the history of games is about as long as the history of humanity and used for serious purposes follows that line. And, as the times were different, the needs people sought to fulfill through games were also different. Generally, people of our time are asked about serious games from ancient times their minds will drift towards strategy games like chess or go (two well-known games that are still used today) and refer to those. While it is true that military strategy was one of the well-known purposes that serious games have been used for thorough history, the common people had mostly no need for this and had much simpler purposes in creating certain games.

One ancient purpose still around today for example would be accounting and gambling. Some other purposes have become mostly obsolete in our time but had high standing in the past. Examples are games meant for religious purposes and fortune telling. Though we still have our ‘supernatural’ fortune telling games like tarot cards, Ouija boards and the like, we don’t usually take it very seriously and the main purpose of the ‘game’ tends to be for the player to get a thrill and/or some fun out of it. In ancient times fortune-telling games (like the Egyptian game ‘Senet’) were taken very seriously and were relied upon for knowledge of good luck, weather forecasts and many other things.

Serious games are here to stay
While indeed these days the term ‘serious game’ is mostly used in association with computer games and the term itself isn’t that old; It is still true that the genre existed long before the digital age and in truth, when the term first showed up in the 1970’s the everyday use of digital games wasn’t yet a reality. Purposes of importance changes with the ages and thus the genre itself will likely keep shifting even in times still to come.



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