Are Serious Games actually games?

Are Serious Games actually games?

The following topics will be covered in this decryption of Serious Games as a form of training and communication:

Over the past few years a new term has become very popular and is now commonplace at the heart of educational alternatives: Serious Games! These educational games are becoming more and more prevalent in the world of training and education. But do we really know what a Serious Game is? Can a game serve a purpose other than providing enjoyment? Can it be designed with a priority other than for pure recreational pleasure? We are going to try to answer these questions for you.

What is the definition of a Serious Game?

Before we continue, we must ask ourselves: What is a Serious Game? Julian Alvarez defines Serious Games as “a computer application in which the objective is to combine serious aspects such as teaching, learning, communication or information, in a non-exhaustive, way with the playful energy of video games.” So it is a computer game that’s main objective is not pure enjoyment as it aims to stimulate learning. Of course, Alvarez is not the only one to have proposed a definition for the term. Others, for example, define a Serious Game as a fun activity which does not need to be digitised.

Caillois’ definition of a game

However, Roger Caillois has developed a definition which opposes the definition that Alvarez has established. Having worked at length on the question of play, the sociologist defines the activity as:

According to Caillois’ definition, Serious Games cannot be considered games as they are not unproductive (their main objective is to stimulate learning, with enjoyment being a secondary purpose). Often, the trainer offering the Serious Game delivers the game to their learners as a task and in this sense, we can also say that Caillois’ element of ‘freedom’ cannot be applied to Serious Games. So, why do we use the term ‘game’?

Can a game be a game if its main goal is to be educational rather than being unproductive?

We can therefore wonder about the validity of the term ‘game’ when talking about an activity not designed with the purpose of entertainment. It is possible that the term is not the most prudent in the traditional sense of the word. In reality, it is not so much a case of playing, but rather a case of using the playful mechanisms of a game to serve an educational purpose. Jess Schell, for example, talks about the gamification of learning. The question of Serious Games qualifying as ‘real games’ only arises if we take definitions by Caillois and other authors who consider games to be unproductive as a point of reference. However, for many authors, bringing a playful dimension to educational content is sufficient for the activity to be considered a game.

What interests users in educational games and interactive digital content?

Despite any questions that the term ‘Serious Games’ may pose, the gamification of learning continues to develop. The fact remains that using gaming mechanisms in the context of training and education offers numerous advantages. In 2016, Djaouti highlighted the uses of a playful approach to learning:

The primary advantage that one can find in the use of Serious Games in training is the overall positive impact on the motivation of the students. Numerous studies on the use of educational games in the longterm show that Serious Games can produce a notable boost in students’ motivation (cf: Malone, 1981 ; Wastiau et al., 2009).

Furthermore, Serious Games can also offer leaners access to a realm of experimentation in which they are invited to test their ability to think and reflect. A large majority of Serious Games build upon a trial-and-error style of learning: the student mentally constructs a “hypothesis” which they will test in the game. The game either proves or disproves the hypothesis and encourages the player to revise their approach until they find a solution which allows them to succeed. Thus, a Serious Game considered to be ‘good’ offers players support to help them independently form an appropriate hypothesis (Sanchez, 2011).

Using educational games also allows the educator to take into consideration the range of abilities and disparities within a group (Kafai, 1994). Therefore, each student can progress through the game at their own pace: a student who requires multiple attempts of a section in order to reach the solution can start over without fear of judgement from their peers. Equally, a student who succeeds on their first attempt will not feel frustrated by having to wait for their classmates to catch up.

Lastly, some Serious Games favour educational interactions between students, in the style of multi-player games which facilitate the implementation of Zones of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1985).

How to create a Serious Game

Although using Serious Games in training can offer significant advantages, the fact remains that they must be implemented well in order to be effective. Above all else, all playful approaches must be pertinent and consistent with the course content to be functional. You cannot integrate a Serious Game at any point in a course, simply to be able to offer a Serious Game. The best way to successfully integrate relevant Serious Games which support your course content is to develop them yourself. Don’t know how to do that? No problem!

The Drimify team are gamification experts who can guide you through creating a strategy, as well as supporting you throughout the development and implementation of your project. The Dynamic Path™ allows you to create a scenario alternating between educational content and interactive gaming experiences via fun applications to aid learning as part of professional training. Another advantage of using our platform is that it is very easy to use and is accessible to everyone, with no specialised technical knowledge necessary.  You have full control of the project and the design work is done collaboratively.

Conclusion on the use of Serious Games

To conclude, although the term educational ‘games’ may be a contentious choice of wording in the eyes of some writers, it does not diminish the fact that integrating gaming mechanisms into teaching techniques for training and educational courses provides a positive and beneficial strategy for the end user. The only condition for successful integration is ensuring that the Serious Game is relevant to the content.


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