Last week I had the privilege of speaking at and attending the Serious Play conference at USC in Los Angeles. I was there to share our experience creating and promoting the Toothsavers game for our Children’s Oral Health campaign, but ended up taking away much more.
The time is now for “serious games”
Serious games tend to fall into three main categories–educational games, health games and games used for corporate training purposes. In some ways, the games we have been working on at the Ad Council would fall into a fourth category: games for social good (creating behavior change or raising awareness around an issue). Google’s lead game maker Noah Falstein kicked off the event with a keynote where he explained why the current environment is so ripe for creating serious games. He pointed to the reality that gaming has gone far beyond console gamers (or the teenage guy playing for hours in his basement stereotype) to everyone playing on tablets and phones. Women now account for almost half of all gamers and tablets have become “magnets” for two-year-olds.
The other factor Falstein raised was the reality that the hardware we play games on, particularly phones, is getting better, faster and cheaper–making them more accessible, especially in developing countries. Wearable technology is also enabling serious games, particularly in the health space where sensors are tracking everything from steps to stress. The Chinese company Xiaomi just released its version of a Fit Bit band for only $13.
Games and the controversial buzzword “gamification” have also become so mainstream that scientists are taking them (and their effects on our brains) seriously. In addition, many younger scientists have grown up gaming and are helping to shape this research agenda.
Falstein believes that technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality are finally “almost there” and will be used to transform classrooms into outer space or different periods in history, or help people to work through their phobias or heal from PTSD. He even mentioned the use of Google Glass in couples therapy where one partner would speak and the other’s Glass would give them a suggested “non-triggering” response. He advised non-profits and educators to watch the entertainment space closely because they will do all of this first.
The right game for the right audience at the right price
The other theme I noticed a lot was how to develop games inexpensively as well as finding the right platform, or “gameplay,” for the issue you are addressing. For the Red Crescent, their platform is offline–they use facilitators who use probability games to teach aide workers in developing countries to understand how to problem solve and prioritize resources after receiving climate change related weather alerts. Many museums are licensing inexpensive gaming platforms like TourSphere or TapWalk to create location-based mobile experiences for patrons like Murder at the Met. This can be a cheaper alternative to building games from scratch and provides organizations with the ability to swap in new content.
Regarding finding the right gameplay for your intended audience, Falstein cracked that Call of Duty and being HIPPA compliant don’t necessarily go together. He spoke about how hidden object games have been very effective with autistic children who look to identify facial expressions/emotions with certain objects.
Wisdom and money from crowds
Did you know the CDC holds Game Jams? I didn’t. I also didn’t know they have created games to teach coal miners safety as well as games for the people who may have to rescue the coal miners. Not until I heard Dr. Dan Baden (medical doctor and gamer) talk about how the CDC held its first game jam in 2013 in Atlanta. They were able to crowd source game prototypes on a number of issues ranging from teen pregnancy to texting and driving by inviting young game designers to participate for the promise of a little bit of prize money and an internship. The event was so successful they are doing it again this year with a focus on HIV games. Falstein also mentioned crowdfunding as a possibility for developing serious games–especially those that are very targeted to a specific audience (i.e. an autism game). Hey, that’s how the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift came into being (on Kickstarter).
Has your organization experimented with gaming? We would love to know how in the comments!