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Serious Games, broadly speaking, are games where the primary purpose is to achieve an objective that is not entertainment. Some of these objectives include, but are not limited to: education, modelling complex systems, and art.
That is not to say that a serious game cannot be entertaining - far from it, in my opinion. I think a good serious game should be engaging whilst trying to generate successful outcomes. The notion that “Serious Games” is an oxymoron is typically generated from the debate around what people consider to be “fun” and “engaging”.
When we think about what we enjoy in entertainment games, the context of how we enjoy them (e.g. de-stressing after a hard day’s work, playing with friends on a weekend), as well as how we interact with the game (e.g. being the best shooter in a game, solving puzzles) means that we think of the concept of fun as something that is not work-related, and/or allowing us to be temporarily transported to a space that is of fantasy, away from the real-world. There is a concept that is relevant to this, called the “Magic Circle”.
One reason why you feel good while playing games is because of this concept. Think about a couple of young children who are playing “Doctor”. One says to the other at the start, “I’ll be the doctor, while you will be the patient.” By starting a game, you enter “the Magic Circle”, a metaphysical space where reality is suspended and different rules apply, and you get to express yourself in any way you like. There are consequences to how you choose to express yourself, but it has no real-life consequences in the real world (for the most part) as long as they stay within the Magic Circle. It is a safe space for self-expression and experimentation.
And so when we think of the term “Serious Games”, the word Serious at first glance seems to contradict this. This is, however, not true. The reason why Serious Games work is because of the Magic Circle. For us to understand how it is so, I would first need to talk about how Serious Games came into being (or transpired).
Stay tuned for the next post tomorrow, where I talk about a brief history of how Serious Games came to be. In the meantime, what are some other activities that you can think of besides Games that might use the Magic Circle?
Resource: "What is a Magic Circle"