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Serious Games Mix Work And Play

Barbara Gengler and Roland Tellzen JUNE 20, 2006

A new generation of serious video games is aiming to save the world through peace and democracy. Serious games are just a tiny niche in the $US25 billion ($33.8 billion) interactive entertainment sector, but they are growing in importance.

Australia, which is strong in the mainstream games design, also features in the serious games arena through companies such as Melbourne's Torus Digital Concepts. The basic concept of all video games is to allow the player to control the events of a particular character and force him or her to connect and manipulate information to move on to the next level. Serious games, which merge the video game and educational software, take the concept a step further by allowing players to be problem solvers, political leaders or humanitarian workers while learning information that might otherwise come from a textbook or lecture.

Ben Sawyer, co-director of the Serious Games Initiative and Games for Health, says most games developers will be making serious games within 10 years.
At the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, a Carnegie Mellon University took first place with its PeaceMaker entry in a Games for Diplomacy contest held by the University of Southern California. In the game, players assume leadership responsibilities on both sides of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, facing real-life issues, such as military attacks.

In Australia, companies such as Torus Digital Concepts, which exhibited at this year's CeBIT IT trade fair in Germany, have jumped on the serious games express. Torus, which also designs mainstream games, has produced game-like training programs for areas such as medicine and policing. For example, the company is building a scenario village for the Victorian Police Department at Glen Waverley. "It's an important facility, a training aid for the police 18-hours-a-day, 365 days a year," Torus' chief executive Bill Macintosh says. Serious games could eventually overtake the huge general games market, he says. "Serious games are middle ground between simulations and games.

They are growing at six times the rate of other games, and the potential market is enormous.