Online list of theses related to serious games

Serious Games Pathfinder features a growing list of Master’s and Doctoral theses related to serious games. Currently, most of the theses are Canadian but the site welcomes submissions from other countries to add to the list. While not all of the theses are available online, it’s worth browsing the list to see the changing interests of the academic community.

Here’s a selection of some of the more arresting titles:

  • Informatization of a nation: a case study of South Korea’s computer gaming and PC-Bang culture
  • Infinite regress : the blurring of an architectural game-space
  • Gamers as learners: Emergent culture, enculturation, and informal learning in massively multiplayer online games

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Do serious games developers ignore mainstream videogames?

Those interested in serious games have long been preoccupied with defining serious games themselves, and the outcomes are rarely illuminating. On his member blog at Gamasutra, Raymond Ortgiesen criticizes the term ‘serious games’ but also goes on to bemoan serious games developers’ tendencies to ignore the progress made in traditional videogames in terms of immersion and player engagement.

Didn’t Far Cry 2 touch on the poverty and power struggles in  Africa? Didn’t Bioshock try to challenge our notions of freedom (“A man chooses, a slave obeys”)? And how many countless games have been satirical but serious critiques of western society (Fallout, Grand Theft Auto)? Now, those games aren’t perfect. They haven’t all even accomplished what they set out to do, necessarily. But they try and they becoming more potent with each iteration. Why aren’t they called serious games?

Ortgiesen argues that serious games developers should take the current crop of videogames as their starting point, rather than reinventing the wheel – and he also notes that ‘It’s not as if the “serious games” crowd has a large repertoire of successes to claim either’. While I agree with this in principle, the fact that publishers see little demand for big-budget educational games means that serious games developers have far more limited resources. And while Far Cry 2 and Bioshock lay a strong claim to provoke intellectual discussion, I’d say that the concepts presented in these games are more a narrative framework rather than a thesis or a selection of facts and skills for the player to absorb.

Similarly, an analogy to film and literature isn’t ideal – whereas Schindler’s List could be described as a more serious or more educational film than Die Hard, is it really a more comprehensive visual treatment of its subject matter than a BBC documentary about WWII? However, I sympathise with Ortgiesen’s argument that the ‘serious game’ term ‘does nothing except erect a big wall between developers who are trying to accomplish the same goal’, and perhaps the best way for a developer to create a mainstream educational game is to not label it as such.

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Driving and texting – a game to gauge distraction


The New York Times, with help from psychology professors David Strayer and David E. Meyer, has created a game to simulate the effects of texting whilst driving a car. The interface works because it’s so awkward – you’re expected to steer the car into traffic lanes using number keys whilst simultaneously typing text message responses using the mouse. The volume of crash barriers may not be realistic, but the game succeeds neatly in demonstrating that using a mobile phone while driving decreases your ability to react quickly.

Via VG Researcher – Psychology.

Saving journalism with online games

darfurisdyingYouth marketing website Ypulse hosts an article about using online games in place of journalism to engage young people. Anastasia argues that while teenagers may choose Halo over a serious game such as MTV’s ‘Darfur is Dying’, when presented with a classroom choice between listening to a teacher lecturing about Darfur or playing the game, pupils would undoubtedly pick the game.

1066 Flash game from Channel 4

1066Channel 4 has produced a 1066 Flash game to complement its TV drama of the same name (discovered via Wonderland). Developed by Preloaded, the game can be played as a singleplayer campaign or against online opponents. The interface is impressively complex, allowing the player to command each Viking unit, with added authentic taunts and insults. There’s even some squelchy blood effects during the battle sequences.

Hopefully the steep learning curve won’t put teachers and students off as there’s real depth to this game, and could really help bring the topic to life.

Google Earth as game engine

ships_queen_mary_2_manhattanShips is a serious application in which you take control of a variety of barges, container ships and cruise liners, and drive them around the world. The application is built around the Google Earth browser plugin and features an onscreen user interface added to the usual Google Earth view.

If you have the Google Earth plugin installed, visit Planet in Action to play Ships right now. Also, see here for case study notes about using Google Earth as a game engine.

US Army uses videogames to recruit

Reuters gives a detailed report on the US Army Experience Center, a recruitment center in a Philadephia shopping mall featuring 60 PCs and 19 Xbox 360 consoles that allows potential recruits to simulate battle conditions:

The Philadelphia center lures recruits with a separate room for prospective soldiers to “fire” from a real Humvee on enemy encampments projected on a 15-foot-high (4.5-meter-high) battleground scenario that also has deafening sound effects.
In another room, those inclined to attack from above can join helicopter raids in which enemy soldiers emerge from hide-outs to be felled by automatic gunfire rattling from a simulator modeled on an Apache or Blackhawk helicopter.

Representatives say that the recruitment centre “aims to dispel misperceptions about Army life”. It’s unclear whether the games used are commercially-available games or bespoke software.

See Gamepolitics for coverage of a recent protest rally, in which 7 people were arrested.