Category Archives: Serious Games

Unconventional Game Ideas

Now that Nintendo has helped prove that there’s a market for unconventional games like Brain Age and Animal Crossing, I thought it might be fun to brainstorm (pun intended) other “semi-serious” possibilities:

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Me. NIRSA. Day 2.

This conference has been such a strange experience for me. At E3, everybody is eagerly playing the games on the show floor. There’s a palpable eagerness to see what’s new (though, of course, “what’s new” is rarely all that new.) I guess that somehow I was expecting to see the same sort of thing here… fitness professionals eagerly trying out new equipment, sweating up a storm, etc.

Mmm… not so much. The floor has rarely buzzed with activity. This is possibly because much of the equipment on display doesn’t seem all that terribly different from equipment that I saw in gyms ten years ago. And, in general, attendees seem more excited about going for a run outside (the weather here is amazing!) than checking out the latest, greatest weight machines. I’m even starting to miss the obnoxiously loud music at E3.  ;-)

Anyway, back to games (or, more specifically, exertainment). There are surprisingly few companies showing off game fitness products. Cateye has some spiffy DDR pads on display, as well as the latest version of their GameBike (the picture on the right is me trying it out.) The GameBike only supports racing games, which makes sense since it relies on the PS2 for content, and our studies have shown that most other commercial console titles are simply too complex for use in an exercise environment. People can’t handle both the game and the peddling.

I’ve always felt that custom-designed casual games are the better option — more variety, more control over the exercise experience, broader demographic appeal, etc. However, I have to admit that it was fun racing around on the bike! Time will tell if significant numbers of gym-goers will tolerate nothing but racing games over long periods of time. (This model is being adopted by several startups in the exertainment space, not just Cateye).

Me. NIRSA.

Well, I’m in Kentucky. You might wonder why, since there’s probably not a game developer or publisher within 500 miles of here (to be fair, I haven’t actually checked.) The answer: I’m presenting at the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association — NIRSA. More specifically, I’m presenting on Cyclescore, my research project fusing video games and exercise equipment.

The conference doesn’t really start rolling till tomorrow, so I’m short on stories. A famous motivational speaker gave the keynote tonight. It was essentially a very, very long pep talk. Apparently, this sort of thing is not so uncommon in the fitness world. Go figure.  :)

I had a nice conversation with an amiable chap from Maine who manages a university’s gym and arcade facilities. They have a DDR arcade unit, which on its own earns almost twice what the entire remainder of the arcade earns as a whole. They have pool tables and some relatively new arcade games, so this is actually quite impressive; it also matches up with what I’ve observed at the MIT arcade.

PS. And, on a totally unrelated note – Nintendo just revised its profit estimate up 30%, thanks to strong DS sales. $807M for the year. Bet that feels good.

Serious Games: Soul-Searching

There’s been quite a bit of soul-searching in the serious games community as of late. Some smart, dedicated people are wondering why the serious game market hasn’t taken off yet, why it isn’t swimming in funds (governmental, non-profit, or corporate), and why developers generally don’t take this stuff, well… seriously.

Unfortunately, the phrase “serious games” has come to encapsulate so much that I find it difficult to say anything meaningful on the subject. For example, I think developments in the “games for health” space are quite promising (and I know that corporations like Nintendo, Sony, and Konami would agree.) On the other hand, the “games for education” space — arguably the standard-bearer for the serious games movement — is really struggling. So I’m going to focus this post on games for education.

The educational game movement has a problem. Most people on the street can’t name a “commercially-successful” educational title. Those who can will inevitably name Oregon Trail or Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, neither of which were actually all that educational. And they’re both so old! What’s up with that?

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Games For Health Take Another Step Forward

Via Joystiq, news that the University of Washington has received a grant to develop games that facilitate home-based care for chronically ill patients. For example, the act of monitoring one’s own health serves as a fundamental part of the gameplay experience. Relevant information could automatically be shared with physicians via console network connections.

I’m very interested in this kind of research, and for good reason. Thanks to advances in life-saving medical technology, chronic disease is becoming more common every year. The New York Times just reported that one in eight adult New Yorkers now have diabetes (a scary thing, given the long term complications caused by the disease.) But did you know that there’s a game for diabetics that encourages careful self-regulation? Assuming high quality and a reasonable price, I’d be very surprised if parents of diabetic children weren’t willing (and excited!) to buy this product.

Researchers at McGill University want to make games that increase self-esteem. Games are being used to combat paranoia. Games in general have even been shown to decrease the suffering of hospital patients, especially children. And don’t get me started about combatting obesity; the social and financial potential is mind-boggling (and easy to tap, now that Sony and Nintendo are both positioning themselves as enablers of physically-active gaming.)

The anti-gaming crowd just doesn’t know what it’s missing.

PS. For those interested in this topic, check out the Games for Health website, and especially Ian Bogost’s great coverage of the first ever Games for Health Conference (2005).

Dance To Your Own Beat (Literally)

Oh happy day … I’ve spotted the convergence of two of my favorite topics: physically-active games and user-generated content. :)

Codemasters has announced that Dance Factory will be available for purchase in April. Dance Factory is DDR with a twist: game content is auto-generated using a player’s own music collection. In other words, you can dance to anything you own (or create!) I wonder what would happen if you popped Barry Manilow in the drive…

This screenshot shows that the game has a definite emphasis on exercise: it displays “calories burned”, “equivalent jogging”, and “equivalent swimming”. I wonder if this might almost be too much information? I think the fitness angle is extremely important, but it’s kind of a downer to think about jogging when I’m looking for fun. More of a downer if I play a quick game and burn hardly any calories. Maybe there’s another way to communicate this information? Doritos incinerated, perhaps? Gotta choose a small food unit to keep the reported numbers high. :)

BTW, Codemasters has also produced Music Generator 3, in tandem with MTV. Good example of the correct way to fuse consumer brands with video game content — sensible and relevant to the gameplay.