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Serious Games: Go Do Something Cool
Jamais Cascio, 5 Nov 05

foodforcehelicopter.jpgThe Serious Games Summit took place this last week, and by all reports, it was a worthwhile event (one I'm sorry that I missed!). We talk with some regularity about the use of games for educational and "non-entertainment" purposes, and the Serious Games Summit covered the issue in some depth. (Previous "serious games" we've looked at include A Force More Powerful, climate games, Food Force and -- of course -- SimCity.)

Ian Boqost at Water Cooler Games was one of the presenters at the Serious Games Summit, and blogged both days of the event (Day 1, Day 2). The Washington Post had a detailed story about the event, as well, one that gives a good introduction to the concept of non-entertainment games. The article also tells a story about the utility of games as a training tool:

...the developers of serious games -- which are invariably geared toward the improvement of the player's knowledge, skills or even moral character -- display a good bit of pride about the subjects their products address, and may prefer another measure of success.

"Incident Commander" producer Parsons told a story about one of the beta testers for Incident Commander being sent to Louisiana to help deal with the Hurricane Katrina aftermath after spending an entire week playing the game.

"He learned things that helped him set up an 800-bed hospital for refugees in Baton Rouge," Parsons said. "If through that process, people were made more comfortable, maybe lives were saved, then that justifies any amount of time and effort we've spent on doing this."

One of the appealing aspects of the serious games concept is that it encourages the development of uncommon or previously unknown game themes and styles. Genius game designer Greg Costikyan put together a Powerpoint presentation outlining the "game styles" that haven't yet been fully explored (PPT). His presentation isn't meant to be all-inclusive, but it's worth noting one area he doesn't mention that, I strongly suspect, is likely to become an important theme for both serious and "fun" games in the years to come: planetary management.

In compiling material for the WorldChanging Book this week, I found links to classic environmental games like SimEarth, Balance of the Planet, and Global Effect. But the last of these was published in 1992; I have yet to find any more recent commercially-available/freeware games that have planetary management or the environment as their central idea. (Do you folks know of anything I might have missed?)

The final words of Costikyan's presentation, as reproduced in the title of this post, were "Go do something cool." Here's the challenge, then: go make the SimWorldchanging/Change the Planet game. That would be very cool -- and very useful.

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I've yet to get my hands on Civilization IV, but it had promised to include enough editing power as to allow a competent coder to design a scenario that played much like an updated version of SimEarth.
Doing this might actually be more time-consuming than designing a simple environmental game from scratch, but if the mod was good enough, you'd have a large audience already eager to download your game when they inevitably grow bored of the out-of-the-box Civ 4.

Posted by: David Lucas on 5 Nov 05

I'm really, really, really trying to be a good boy, and not buy Civ IV until the book is done.

It's very difficult, though.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 5 Nov 05

I got my hands on Civilization IV, but unfortunately it has serious problems with ATI-based graphics cards out-of-the-box. Can't use it on my desktop or laptop as a result.

Posted by: Andrew Plumb on 7 Nov 05

Why not give good-old board games another chance?

Posted by: John Kazer on 8 Nov 05



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