About serious gaming

The idea of serious games is contrary to what many believe not new. It first appeared as a concept in a book in 1970. Although it may have appeared back then, the application of games for non-entertainment is as old as human
kind itself. Despite the extensive application, the first publications about game design did not appear until the early 70's. In our own research, we experienced that serious game design is about three core elements that need to
be balanced against each other. This approach, and it has to be emphasized that it is merely one way of looking, is labeled as "Triadic Game Design". The core elements are similar to the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow and need
to be mixed appropriately to get the right blend of fun, learning, and validity.


Before explaining the approach into more detail, it is necessary to define our idea of game design. Designing games, in particular digital ones, requires the consideration of a variety of aspects, like the aesthetics and the technology.
When speaking of game design we do not consider these aspects. Rather, what is important to us are the "concepts" of the game. These are somewhat abstract notions of what the rules of the game are, how these rules establish a meaningful message, and how they are related to reality. From the concepts specific instances can be created, like scenarios or story lines. Although these are relevant, the focus of the workshop remains (necessarily) limited to the concepts. This has some implications for the eventual results of the workshop, as concepts are normally tested and reiterated after implementing them. This means that the concepts that participants designed during the workshop may effectively turn out to be not successful. However, the point of the workshop is not to design successful concepts, but to achieve insights in a way of thinking and doing. This way of thinking and doing is centered on the idea of Triadic Game
Design. The three core elements are referred to as ludus, semiosis, and ontology.

The core elements are not only affiliated with specific game elements, they also represent a way of looking, a "Weltanschauung", onto designing games. Ludus for instance, Latin for play or game, relates to all the elements that are
concerned with playing, from power-ups to scores, and relates to the fields of human-computer interaction to creative writing. Basically, these are the same elements and fields for designing entertainment games.

The second core element, semiosis, refers to the production of meaning. Distinguishable from entertainment games, serious games have some meaning, whether physical as in most health related games, theoretical as in most educational oriented games, or practical as in most games used for training.

Related elements are not necessarily pop-ups with texts. Meaning can and should be embedded in game interactions. Examples of fields are media studies, the learning sciences, and semiotics. Finally, the third component is ontology. With this a conception of reality is referred to. Every game consists of a model of reality, even entertainment games.
These models are biased or subjective next to being incomplete, as people have different perspectives on reality and it is impossible to simulate reality perfectly. The related elements are those that represent a part of reality. The fields are
those that are connected to the subject. If it is a game about logistics, a field like supply chain management is involved.

 

To create a successful serious game each core element is equally important. This differs from entertainment game design. There only ludus matters. Unfortunately, considering each element equally is easier said than done. Aside from
the huge amount of perspectives that need to be taken into account, it turns out that at some points the elements may not be complementary to each other, but conflicting. For this reason, designers need to make trade-offs between the elements. The idea of the workshop is to not only let participants see what the core elements are and how they need to be considered, but also to let them experience how these trade-offs appear during the design process.