I stimulated a debate on the www.seriousgames.org discussion listserv about the nature of the supposed ‘serious games community’. The discussions have been very passionate and generally well presented. For those of you that don’t subscribe to this daily digest I have pasted below my most recent post.

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There are numerous issues and discussion points being raised – all of which I am following with interest and all of which illustrate the group’s passion for what we do – however as my opening question was around the notion of community I’d like to focus on that a bit more. 

I very much take the points raised by several people that maybe ‘community’ isn’t the appropriate grouping descriptor. Some suggested ‘market’ (and just as pertinently, ‘markets’). Others have talked about ‘movement’. Ben has eloquently described a hierarchical structure that centers upon entertainment games industry ‘tradecraft’ and squarely places serious games as a clear subset of the overall computer games industry.  It is interesting to note that even thought I explicitly sought to avoid the ‘What is a serious game?’ debate, several people replied to me and commented on my blog with suggestions that we seek to find a better term that serious games. Once again I want to reiterate that I think this is a largely academic debate that scores a much lower priority than the need to define the nature of the uber group and, as I see it, the fact that we are actually several different groups.  

With that in mind – trying to resolve multiple crisis’s of identity if you like – and in order to enable each of us to form coherent messages for the audiences which we serve I’d like to submit the following: 

1.             The core serious games element of this community see themselves very clearly as ‘games people’ who focus on applying their skills, know-how and, yes, technology to end-user problems rather than entertainment. Their outputs span tackling many spheres of societal challenges (from military to health, education to social activism) and the experiential nature of their applications tend to be based on a diverse range of overt ‘game play’ techniques in order to provide problem-centred environments in which one is engaged and challenged rather than, for example, taught. 

2.            Immersive Learning Simulations etc (‘That community’ as Ben described it) – The human development (trainers, coaches, eLearning specialists, HR people, subject matter experts etc) amongst the community are primarily not from the game industry and have, as their focus, a vision relating to taking their respective fields forward to address the weaknesses (real or perceived) of traditional classroom and 1st generation eLearning approaches as well as attempting to address the time, technical and funding/budget pressures of their industry. Their outputs tend to be less about open game play and more about mastering domain-specific skills (small and big) and knowledge through, for example, business and process simulations. These outputs tend to have much more of what we would term ‘content’, are by nature more (but not absolutely) linear and time-constrained and involve assessment in some form or other. 

3.            The virtual worlds/environments element seem (to me) to be somewhat more embryonic in that their outputs appear to range from graphically-enhanced (glorified?) chat rooms through to very structured situational simulations with 3D, physics etc used to foster awareness of real world physical environments. The emphasis (and strengths) rest upon their ability to foster meaningful social networks of like-minded people (often in a very spontaneous manner) and/or their ability to enable collaboration of some form or other. The factors that hold us together are the opportunity to observe and learn from one another but fundamentally we do serve different market needs which we approach with different drivers, needs and restrictions borne of what is acceptable to these markets in terms of what we can actually sell and what we can actually implement in the short, medium and longer term. And yes, some of us are in competition and yes, some of us deliberately blur the definitions around the space for commercial or other advantage. 

In a way we are like a very big family gathering where nobody is actually certain that there is a genealogical relationship but hey, whilst the band are playing and the drink is flowing we might as well enjoy the party right?

 I think I know why I choose to engage in this group (listserv and conferences) and why I still do (not the same reasons), and I’ll happily disclose that privately but this discussion is not about me, but rather the idea of exploring the motivations of the multitude of diverse sub-sectors of the SG group. I’d like to do this with the explicit objective of “keeping us all honest” – if we are not a largely homogeneous group then lets just openly recognize that.  If we as practitioners of these various fields can at least do that then we should achieve one critical goal affecting our collective sustainability namely avoiding confusing our various customer groups.   

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