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A serious game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The "serious" adjective is generally appended to refer to products used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, religion, and politics.



The term "funny game" was actually used long before the introduction of computer and electronic devices into entertainment. Clark Abt discussed the idea and used the term in his 1970 book Serious Games,[1] published by Viking Press. In that book, his references were primarily to the use of board and card games. But he gave a useful general definition which is still considered applicable in the computer age:

Reduced to its formal essence, a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives. We are concerned with serious games in the sense that these games have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement.

Mike Zyda provided an update and a logical approach to the term in his 2005 article in IEEE Computer entitled, "From Visual Simulation to Virtual Reality to Games". Zyda's definition begins with "game" and proceeds from there:

  • Game: “a physical or mental contest, played according to specific rules, with the goal of amusing or rewarding the participant.”
  • Video Game: “a mental contest, played with a computer according to certain rules for amusement, recreation, or winning a stake.”
  • Serious Game: “a mental contest, played with a computer in accordance with specific rules that uses entertainment to further government or corporate training, education, health, public policy, and strategic communication objectives.”

Long before the term "serious game" came into wide use with the Serious Games Initiative in 2002, games were being made for non-entertainment purposes. The continued failure of the edutainment space to prove profitable, plus the growing technical abilities of games to provide realistic settings, led to a re-examination of the concept of serious games in the late 1990s. During this time, a number of scholars began to examine the utility of games for other purposes, contributed to the growing interest in applying games to new purposes. Additionally, the ability of games to contribute to training expanded at the same time with the development of multi-player gaming. In 2002, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. launched a "Serious Games Initiative" to encourage the development of games that address policy and management issues. More focused sub-groups began to appear in 2004, including Games for Change which focuses on social issues and social change, and Games for Health which addresses health care applications.

There is no single definition of serious games, though they are generally held to be games used for training, advertising, simulation, or education. Alternate definitions include the application of games concepts, technologies and ideas to non-entertainment applications. This can also include specific hardware for video games, such as exergaming.

Serious games are aimed for a large variety of audiences, including primary or secondary education, professionals and consumers. Serious games can be of any genre, use any game technology, and be developed for any platform. Some may consider them a kind of edutainment; however, the mainstay of the community are resistant to this term.

A serious game may be a simulation which has the look and feel of a game, but corresponds to non-game events or processes, including business operations and military operations (even though many popular entertainment games depicted business and military operations). The games are made to provide an engaging, self-reinforcing context in which to motivate, educate and train the players. Other purposes for such games include marketing and advertisement. The largest users (unsubstantiated by business intelligence) of serious games appear to be the US government and medical professionals.[citation needed] Other commercial sectors are actively pursuing development of these types of tools as well.


The concept of using games for education dates back before the days of computers, but the first serious game is often considered to be Army Battlezone, an abortive project headed by Atari in 1980, designed to use the Battlezone tank game for military training. In recent years, the US government and military have periodically looked towards game developers to create low-cost simulations that are both accurate and engaging. Game developers' experience with gameplay and game design made them prime candidates for developing these types of simulations which cost millions of dollars less than traditional simulations, which often require special hardware or complete facilities to use.

Outside of the government, there is substantial interest in games for education, professional training, healthcare, advertising and public policy. For example, games from websites such as are "very political games groups made outside the corporate game system" that are "raising issues through media but using the distinct properties of games to engage people from a fresh perspective," says Henry Jenkins, the director of MIT's comparative media studies program. Such games, he said, constitute a "radical fictional work."1 Michigan State University offers a Serious Games MA, a Master of Arts graduate program and graduate certificate in serious game design.[2] In Europe a similar Masters Programme has been set up at the University of Salford in 2005 and named "MSc in Creative Games".



Video and computer game developers are accustomed to developing games quickly and are adept at creating games that simulate—to varying degrees—functional entities such as radar and combat vehicles. Using existing infrastructure, game developers can create games that simulate battles, processes and events at a fraction of the cost of traditional government contractors.

Traditional simulators usually cost millions of dollars not only to develop, but also to deploy, and generally require the procurement of specialized hardware. The costs of media for serious games is very low. Instead of volumes of media or computers for high-end simulators, SGs require nothing more than a DVD or even a single CD-ROM, exactly like traditional computer and video games require. Deploying these to the field requires nothing more than dropping them in the mail or accessing a dedicated web site.

Finally, while SGs are meant to train or otherwise educate users, they often hope to be engaging. Game developers are experienced at making games fun and engaging as their livelihood depends on it. In the course of simulating events and processes, developers automatically inject entertainment and playability in their applications.

Classifications and subsets of serious games

The classification of serious games is something that is yet to solidify, there are however a number of terms in reasonably common use for inclusion here.

  • Advergames
  • Edutainment
  • Games-Based Learning - These games have defined learning outcomes. Generally they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world.[3]
  • Edumarket Games - When a serious game combines several aspects (such as advergaming and edutainment aspects or persuasive and news aspects), the application is an Edumarket game. For example, Food Force combines news, persuasive and edutainment goals.
  • News Game - Journalistic games that report on recent events or deliver an editorial comment. Examples include September 12th [4]
  • Simulations or Simulation Games - Games used for the acquisition or exercise of different skills, to teach effective behavior in the context of simulated conditions or situations. In practice, are widely used simulation driving different vehicles (cars, trains, airplanes; e.g. FlightGear), simulation of management of specific industries (e.g. Transport Tycoon), and universal business simulation, developing strategic thinking and teaching users the basics of macro-and microeconomics, the basics of business administration (e.g. Virtonomics).
  • Persuasive Games - games used as persuasion technology
  • Organizational-dynamic games
  • Games for Health, such as games for psychological therapy, or games for cognitive training or physical rehabilitation uses.
  • Art Games - games used to express artistic ideas or art produced through the medium of video games
  • Militainment - games funded by the military or which otherwise replicate military operations with a high degree of accuracy.

Additionally Julian Alvarez and Olivier Rampnoux (from the European Center for Children’s Products, University of Poitiers) have attempted to classify serious games in 5 main categories: Advergaming, Edutainment, Edumarket game, Diverted game and Simulation game. (Alvarez J., Rampnoux O., Serious Game: Just a question of posture?, in Artificial & Ambient Intelligence, AISB'07, Newcastle, UK, April 2007, p.420 to 423)


  • CyberCIEGE (Microsoft Windows): Computer network security sim game developed by the Naval Postgraduate School. Players protect assets while enabling "users" to achieve their goals.
  • Darfur is Dying (Internet) An online game by mtvU that simulates life in a Darfur refugee camp.
  • DARWARS Ambush! Convoy Simulator developed as part of DARPA's DARWARS project, designed to create low-cost experiential training systems
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator developed as a comprehensive simulation of civil aviation. Notably one of the few flight simulation games that does not concentrate on simulation of aerial warfare.
  • FloodSim (Internet) A flood prevention simulation/strategy game designed to inform the people of the United Kingdom about the dangers of flooding as well as to help gather public opinion on the problem that flooding presents to the UK. The player takes control of the UK's flood policies for three years and attempts to protect the people and the economy of the United Kingdom from damage due to floods.
  • Food Force (Mac/Windows) Humanitarian video game. The UN's World Food Programme designed this virtual world of food airdrops over crisis zones and trucks struggling up difficult roads under rebel threat with emergency food supplies.
  • Genomics Digital Lab (Mac/Windows) A series of interactive science games where users learn about the importance of plants and their contribution to energy and the environment.
  • Global Conflict: Palestine (Mac/Windows): A 3D-adventure/rpg-game. You are given the role of a reporter in Jerusalem, and have to write articles for your paper.
  • Harpoon (Mac/Windows): Entertainment version was "dual use" from 1989 forward. Professional version Harpoon 3 Professional created in 2002 with help from Australian Defense Department, updated in 2006.
  • NanoMission (Microsoft Windows): A series created for the non-profit group Cientifica in order to teach about nanomedicine, nanotechnology and associated concepts through a series of action games.
  • Peacemaker (Mac/PC, $20) A commercial game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict designed to promote "dialog and understanding among Israelis, Palestinians and interested people around the world".
  • Re-Mission (Microsoft Windows): 3-D Shooter to help improve the lives of young persons living with cancer.
  • Ship Simulator (Microsoft Windows): a simulator which simulates maneuvering various ships in different environments, although without the effects of wind and current.
  • Simport (Mac/Windows): A simulation game in which players learn about the intricacies involved in construction large infrastructural projects, like a major sea port.
  • Steel Beasts Professional: Tank simulator, developed by eSim Games, and used by several armies around the world.
  • Tactical Language & Culture Training System (Microsoft Windows): Computer-based learning system that lets people quickly acquire functional knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. Current titles include Iraqi Arabic, Pashto and French.
  • The 3D Model of The West Virginia Penitentiary (Microsoft Windows): Developed to provide situational awareness for attendees of the Mock Prison Riot held annually at the West Virginia State Penitentiary. Players freely traverse the facility and can measure distances in order to prepare for real world skills testing and riot simulation.
  • VBS1 & VBS2 Training tool for the British Military and the USMC and other military forces around the world. Developed by BIA, and based on the game engine used in Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault.
  • X-Plane (Linux/Mac/Windows): a comprehensive civil aviation simulator. An FAA approved version exists which enables low cost flight training.

Notable developers

  • Archimage, Houston-based design firm that specializes in games for health production with titles including Escape From Diab, Nanoswarm: Invasion From Inner Space and Playnormous.
  • BBN, defense contractor working on the DARWARS project.
  • Bohemia Interactive Australia, Australian developer of the VBS-Series military simulations.
  • BreakAway Games, developers of 24 Blue, Incident Commander[1], A Force More Powerful, mosbe[2], Pulse!! and other serious games
  • Cyberlore Studios
  • Destineer
  • DESQ, a UK based serious games developer, specializing in learning games for CD ROM and online platforms, in particular role-playing learning games.
  • E-Semble bv, a Dutch developer of serious games, used for public safety training and education purposes.
  • IBM One of the premier leaders in corporate serious games
  • Information in Place, Inc. (IIPI), developers of serious games for public and private organizations.
  • PIXELearning Ltd Developers of Serious Games and Immersive Learning Simulations for corporate education and training.
  • Red Redemption, the UK-based developer of Climate Challenge.
  • Sumo Digital, One of Europe's leading console game developers, with an internal Serious Games division.
  • TPLD, developers of SG applications and platforms, predominantly for educational and business use.
  • TruSim, one of the UK's leading serious games developers. A division of Blitz Games Studios.
  • Tygron, Dutch developer of Simport and other serious games.
  • Virtual Heroes, Inc., developers of Serious Games training applications Adaptive Thinking and Leadership (ATL) and Future Soldier Training System (FSTS)
  • VSTEP, one of the Europe's leading serious games developers. Dutch developer of Ship Simulator-series and other serious games.
  • Will Interactive, Serious Game developers based out of the United States. They feature live action games in a variety of fields, including military, health care, and youth education. (FSTS)

See also


  1. ^ "Abt Associates Inc. History, 1970-1974". Abt Associates Inc. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  2. ^ Serious Gmae Master's program at MIT
  3. ^ The book 'Digital Game-Based Learning' by Marc Prensky was the first major publication to define the term, The Official Site of the book 'Digital Game-Based Learning' by Marc Prensky
  4. ^ Gonzalo Frasca of which denounces the use of violence to resolve the problem of terrorism.

External links


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