Serious games are booming nowadays. In the recent decade, this type of games has become a serious business and the branch of industry in serious games will continue to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years. According to VentureBeat, the boom in mobile applications and mobile usage further boosts the growth of serious games. Academic research towards this relatively new phenomenon grows at the same rate as well.
Serious gaming is hot
Statistics show that The Netherlands is the frontrunner worldwide in the field of serious games. About fourty-four percent of the 330 companies in the Dutch game industry is exclusively engaged in the development of this type of games. In april of 2014, Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp opened in Amsterdam a hub for companies in the field of serious games. It is the first time that producers, publishers and distributors of serious games in The Netherlands are united under one roof. The idea is to bundle the entire process from the production to the distribution of serious games.
News articles in the press about this event use terms like “leerzame spellen” (Dutch for ‘educational games’ or ‘learning games’) to describe the field of serious games. But is that an accurate term? What exactly is a serious game? The most simple definition of the term is that a serious game is designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. In other words, they can be entertaining, but they have other purposes, like marketing or training.
Serious games are also called applied games, as the games can be applied in a broad range of areas, including military, government, education, business and healthcare. The use of ‘education’ or ‘learning’ to refer to the field of serious game is thus strictly speaking incorrect. These different interpretations of the term used in the media do not contribute much to the awareness of the term among gamers.
Research conducted by a member of the Game Accessibility project run by the Accessibility Foundation in Utrecht, The Netherlands, show that the term ‘serious game’ is not known among gamers with disabilities. All test subjects who participated in the game test sessions as part of the research are people with at least one impairment related to their vision, their hearing, their motor or cognitive skills. Only ten percent of the test subjects has ever heard of the term before and only one of the twenty-nine test subjects is able to explain correctly what it means.
After informing the test subjects of the definition of the game, the researcher asked them to play three serious games that differ in the purposes of the game. The games included in the study are respectively an advergame in the form of a platform game, a health game in the form of a mind game and an edugame in the form of a drag and drop game. At the end of the game test sessions, the majority of the test subjects express they do not know why the game they played is considered a serious game.
Games for therapy
Earlier studies published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2012 focusing on video games used for therapy claim that improvements in different health-related areas can be found, including physical and psychological therapy, the self-management of patients, distraction of discomfort, physical activities and training of clinical skills. Another study by Brown et al. in 2010 noted the potential of serious games as effective and engaging learning resources for people with learning and sensory disabilities.
In conclusion, the sector of serious games is growing rapidly, with the expanding game industry increasingly making more room for these games, but the awareness of the term ‘serious games’ is low among people with impairments despite the many possibilities serious games may offer to people with temporal or permanent disabilities.