Michael is a 2006 Graduate of Collins College and has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design branching into IT/Coding Fields.
Serious . . . Gaming?
Games. Are. Fun. By both its nature and definition, games (rather videogames for the purpose of this article) are activities for the purpose of enjoyment. While there are times when gameplay can be heated in terms of the competitive aspect, it does not make it "serious." But there is this notion of games being "Serious" which in concept is completely silly. Therefore, this article will discuss the concept of "Serious Gaming" and how it is anything but that. Let us begin.
All Aspects of "Serious Gaming" are Not Serious
We first have to define what it means to provide "Serious Gaming" in order to deconstruct the narrative of this concept. Here's the information we have available:
- Serious Gaming focuses primarily on a real-world topic/issue
- There is a hyper-focused application on realism in world setting and characters.
- Usually, killing is involved.
- The use of "adult language" is also involved.
- The concept or understanding of "fun" does not apply to this medium.
Already, we have a inconsistency in the final descriptor of this "genre." If a game is not fun, then it's not a game. It is a simulation of events using a fictional persona as a go-between for interaction inside the simulation itself. This leads to the next point.
"Serious Gaming" is Just a Buzzword of "Simulation"
Let us not mince words any longer. Serious Gaming, in application, is a buzzword for Simulation Gameplay. You are taking on a particular scenario, given context toward that scenario, and with the instructions necessary to act inside that virtual game space, are told to come up with a solution in line with what the game has planned. Therein is the crux of "Serious Gaming."
On paper, this is sound. In practice, it could not be further from the truth. Theoretically, this would allow the player to come up with solutions to existing problems in such a closed environment without the fear of consequences being irreversible. No matter how many times and way a character dies in a videogame, you can always restart from the last save point or start over entirely with either a mental note of the moment of that caused the Game Over to begin with or, for the studious, taken notes to that point and continued onward using a different solution.
Either method prevents any form of "Seriousness" the game would provide as it is not realistic, thus a simulation, thus not to be taken serious. Reality bares consquences. Simulations, outside of the intended scope of results, do not. Games, in and of themselves have only two results, completion or Game Over.
Where is the Fun in "Serious Gaming?"
As stated before, if the game is not enjoyable, it is just a simulation. Simulations, unless used for educational purposes, can be boring. If the purpose of "Serious Gaming" is to bore the audience, then they have actually failed in that too, as players will try to create a meaningful experience even from the most plodding of games.
That's the phenomenon known as fun that "Serious Gaming" fails to steer away from. So long as there is an element of enjoyment then the game cannot be serious. The game CAN be competitive, and such a serious shift in tone can take place, but that is due to the nature of the competitive aspect of the game which was designed as such. It does not mean that the game is to be taken seriously or in a serious tone; just that the heated gameplay gives a sense of competition in that neither player wants to lose. Such tonal shifts are not present in "Serious Gaming" works.
The Stress Factor of this "Genre"
Stress is the opposite of effect of fun for any game. Games should not be a stressful experience. However, there are many, many, MANY examples of this being the opposite (even to the point that well known pundits of this Arena/Industry have been calling such nonsense out for years, if not over a decade). That's why it must remain critical to have a discussion of the enjoyment of Games as opposed to taking a serious stance.
The purpose of Games and Gameplay is to have an enjoyable experience from the normal routine and rituals of life. To focus on being "serious" implies that this is no longer a game, but a job. While there are careers and institutions based on providing careers in Game Design (the author came from such a school. . . before it was closed) if the focus is the tone or immersion to be of a mundane experience similar to work, then already the value of said game diminishes.
Then there is the criticism of such a "Serious Game." A fine example of this can come from the inspiration of this article: The Last of Us, Part II. In this game, the creator of the series strictly spoke for this game to be taken seriously and to not see it as something to enjoy as fun. The very notion was laughed at along with critical discouragement of choices taken for specific events in the game; to what those choices were, you will have to research that via YouTube video or Social Media engagement. Finally, there is the criticism of that work in being "serious" in the comical approach it has to core gameplay elements, especially in the nigh obsessive desire for wanton slaughter. I have concerns over the mental state of the developers of this game, and the participants that were silenced in regards to such concerns.
The End Result. . . Anything But Serious
Come the end of the day, the idea of "Serious Gaming" is anything but. Games are to be enjoyed as a means of escapism or stress relief; not to compound existing stress leading into hostility. While The Last of Us, Part II was used as an example, it still highlights the misnomer and misleading belief that such a genre exist, but in reality, it's just a simulator, which can be boring.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Michael Rivers
Michael Rivers (author) from North Carolina on July 27, 2020:
To Mr. Farmer,
I literally had to sleep on this one.
First, thank you for taking the time to read the article. It means a lot.
Second, in regards to the game "That Dragon, Cancer" I must ask you a question. To what end does this game serve? Yes, it aids the grieving in better processing a tragic event, but how would such interactivity work in a medium specifically designed for escapism from such harsh reality?
Then there's the need to convey this in a gaming format of point and click. That genre is more of a movie that you can pick out which sequence of events take place rather than a full interaction of your decision-making skills.
Now, before anyone (rightfully) chews my head off, just know that the parents and developers of this game have every right and desire to make this game possible as a means to cherish the memory and spirit of their beloved child lost to cancer. That's not my issue with "Serious Gaming."
Perhaps their child was an avid player of videogames and the parents felt this was the best way to let the world know of him. This would be their final farewell to their son as he is given a chance to live on through this game. I honestly have no idea what they have in mind for their son, other than giving him all the love parents are compelled to do.
Lastly, I appreciate you bringing up how the game was well received by critics in allowing such emotions to finally be address. The problem is that movies and films have done this far more effectively than a videogame, but it does make a case for this situation to be created as a game in that this moment also makes it far too easy to dismiss; movies and films are but brief instances and a game is more immersive.
Therein lies the problem; creating a moment in time that allows for those in grief to enjoy the good moments and to process the not so good moments in a healthier perspective (which may or may not work in real life). That means there is an element of fun to be had, while not intended, in this "Serious" game.
I did not mention this in the article, but it must be stated that at some point, the belief of a game to be taken seriously gives way for dismissal due to simple gaming troupes such as a save file, resets, and continues. In real life, when someone dies, there is no continuation for that person (As a Christian, I know what happens to me after I leave THIS side of Life, but that's not the focus of this response). If we are to treat "Serious Gaming" as something to be taken seriously, it means when a main character that the player controls dies you can never play that game ever again. You would be permanently locked out of access. Such a game would never sell, meaning "Serious Gaming" would be dead before arrival.
It would better serve the Gaming Arena/Industry if we instead focused on re-evaluating what it means to have a Mature game as this instance along with another, "The Beginner's Guide" are IDEAL for this very re-evaluation. That is a discussion for another time, but for now, I thank you for the opportunity to provide my thoughts on the matter.
Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on July 26, 2020:
What do you about a game like "That Dragon, Cancer"? The game is about a family trying to cope with their son dying of cancer.
The parents of the real kid who did die of cancer state they made the game to share their experience with the world. Fun is hardly what they had on their minds I think.
Critics state they like the game for forcing people to face and experience certain emotions.