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Can Games Ever be Serious?

by Steve Prentice  |  December 8, 2009  |  2 Comments

It has been a busy year and I kind of got out of the habit of blogging, so I have resolved (in advance of the holiday season!) to try harder!

I have passionate discussions with the virtual environments community about the use of the term “Serious Games”. I have lost count of the number of times that I have pointed out that, at least to a business person, these two words are uneasy bedfellows. If it is serious, then to call it a game is to undermine its value; and if it is a game then it clearly isn’t serious (and should be expunged from the corporate environment forthwith!).

However, whilst most people see the point, I have to admit that life isn’t quite that simple anymore. The runaway success of Modern Warfare 2 on it’s release in November and the sales since (news reports estimate that sales could top 12 million copies before Christmas) put it firmly on par with Hollywood blockbusters with sales revenues well over the $500 million mark. A serious success if not a serious game as many might view these things. However, despite the runaway success MW2 only really builds on the success of the existing franchise and, as a first person shooter game (albeit with more blood, gore, carnage and mayhem than most) it doesn’t exactly break down the doors to a new market.

The same cannot be said for the other runaway success of the past few months, although not so much in revenue terms.  I am talking of course about Farmville!  I don’t believe I am alone in being amazed by the amount of time, dedication and energy being devoted by members of my family to the pursuit of agricultural excellence. “We have to get back home NOW! My artichokes need harvesting!”. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, the entire household (well, at risk of being accused of sexism, the female part of the household) now runs to the demanding but gentle schedule of the rural economy.

The success of Farmville highlights some interesting features. Firstly it seems (at least in my experience) to appeal to the female of the species rather than the male – maybe it is the nurturing instinct coming out. Requests to join diected to my son are not only unheeded, they invoke outright incredulity – pass me that grenade launcher!  At the same time, it has (like Nintendo and the Wii before it) opened up new markets and attracted a loyal (an understatement – fanatical would be a more accurate description) following. Whilst MW2 sets new standards in video effects and realism, FV stays firmly rooted (pardon the pun!) in 2.5D cartoon characters – and seems none the less attractive for it. What is the point you may ask (as do many regarding MW2 and other games), but social games, casual games or whatever you want to call them seem to appeal to a fairly basic need in the human psyche – maybe there doesn’t need to be a higher purpose. Of course the challenge is the inevitable “How do you make money?” which bedevils all social software initiatives. But successful – I would have to admit that it is, in it’s own way which is not so directly financially linked as MW2.

Which brings me back to Serious Games.  Both MW2 and FV, whilst poles apart in content, intent, price and realism, have to be considered serious in their own way. It all depends on your point of view. Business leaders might be well advised to just think a little before dismissing all so-called games as a waste of time.  As travel restrictions continue to bite we are all going to be spending a little more time getting to know our avatar and getting in touch with our virtual side!

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Category: gaming  

Tags: addiction  avatar  consumer  gaming  

Stephen Prentice
VP & Gartner Fellow
13 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Stephen Prentice is a VP and Gartner Fellow working in the Executive Leadership and Innovation Group (part of CIO Research). He takes a specific interest in emerging trends and the long-term future of technology - looking at the intersection of technology, business and society. Current research interests include... Read Full Bio

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