Games and formal education: one size doesn’t fit all

“my boys always engage more with the commercial games. And they didn’t always like the Maths games or Science games, because it just didn’t feel like real games to them […]. But the girls, they did, and the puzzle problems on Nintendos and things, they liked them, my girls” – quote from an interview with an educator. EE02.

Description

Drawing from the experiences of the educators and players we interviewed, we envisage a very creative and informed use of games for learning at school, with a wide range of games used by educators and a similarly wide range of uses. Game choice – as with all choices in the learning design process – should be driven by learning objectives, contextual constraints, and educator experience, and ought to take student preference into consideration.   For example, in some cases teachers may choose short entertainment games that can be played episodically to stimulate discussion. In others, they may prefer to propose longer playful activities requiring authentic problem solving performed by participants in an online environment.  In yet others, teachers might choose a serious game because it helps to achieve specific objectives. In any case, teachers will need to be aware of the risks of making gaming compulsory or using games in which the playful/gameful dimension is a mere cosmetic layer added to instructional interactions.

Most importantly, teachers will need to embed game-based activities into a broader pedagogical design, where game choice is not the only choice to be made in view of desired outcomes. Other aspects to be considered concern how to manage competition (exploiting its engagement potential while avoiding stress), respecting students’ preferences for different types of games but also using games to overcome personal barriers and counter social stereotypes, as well as dealing with digital divide issues. Last but not least, teachers will be aware that the motivating power of games is a double-edged sword, sometimes fostering motivation to win rather than motivation to learn, unless the two are effectively integrated.

Meet Robert, a secondary school teacher, and his students Mary and Paul (aged 16)

Robert is a secondary school science and technology teacher. He is a strong supporter of game-based learning, since he believes that games can successfully support inquiry learning in STEM and positively engage his 16-year-old students. Robert’s teaching with games is informed and fuelled both by his personal experience as a player and by his professional training. This grounding allows him to consider a variety of different games for use with his students and several ways to use them.

When implementing purposeful gaming in his classroom, Robert usually couples it with other learning activities, and spreads gameplay over multiple sessions rather than limiting it to a single block. Sometimes he includes metagames and purposely-designed assessments.

What Robert always does is seek to calibrate gaming activities to his students’ knowledge, needs, abilities and – last but not least – preferences. He’s noticed that there are significant differences between his students’ preferred game types, preferred mode of gameplay (alone or in groups), and of course, abilities. In contrast with some of his colleagues, Robert’s particularly alert to the problem of the digital divide when it comes to gaming. For example, the students with limited access to different consoles and devices at home tend to take longer to get acquainted with the controls.

Robert’s school has access to a substantial repository of quality digital games to choose from, and this makes it easier for him to select the right game for different students and for different objectives. . This repository can be accessed through an online catalogue listing achievable learning objectives for each game and comments from other users, both students and teachers, and it can be accessed from home too. In this way, students can do their homework by playing in a similar fashion to the ‘flipped classroom’ approach. Each student is free to choose from the set of games Robert proposes, without feeling forced to play or getting bored by games they don’t particularly like.

Mary and Paul (aged 16) are two junior students in Robert’s science class. Although Paul is a player (or perhaps precisely because he is) he really doesn’t like serious games. He feels they’re mostly sugar-coated school exercises. That’s why he and some of the other guys in the class prefer to play more creative games (Minecraft and Portal are his favourites) and maker-oriented activities with design kits like Arduino. Mary isn’t much of a player and is more enthusiastic than Paul about playing applied games (especially puzzles) because she sees them as a playful alternative to the usual homework activities. She also likes creating wearable computing gadgets, which is something that many girls in Robert’s class tend to like. For a while now, Robert has been wondering how to get the girls more interested in the Arduino kits in order to broaden their skills in STEM.

At school, however, Robert usually gets them all to play the same game, otherwise handling the class would be too complicated. In cases like these, he gets them to form teams and play as a group. In this way they develop collaboration skills, and it also avoids the better performing players predominating.

In a nutshell

One game certainly does not fit all. Students have individual preferences and teachers should try to respect these as far as practicable. However, schools are generally not designed, equipped or run to cater for variation.  One way to tackle this is by moving towards more open classrooms, where one or more teachers can follow different teams of students doing different activities. To facilitate teachers’ game choice, individual schools or school networks could create repositories of games offering a rich game choice.

Students’ acceptance of game-based learning can be improved by avoiding mandatory play activities or games where the playful/gameful dimension is a mere cosmetic layer added to instructional interactions. It is also important to take into account students’ individual differences when designing game-based learning activities. Particular attention should be paid to social and gender differences in order to avoid demotivation and frustration.

The European Commission could play a key part by supporting teacher education and professional development initiatives devoted to game-based learning. In this case, priorities should be placed on fostering virtual communities of teachers for the exchange of know-how and experience, and on supporting the establishment of repositories, in order to broaden access to effective games and lesson plans.

Resources

  • Taylor, A. S. A. (2015, September). The active instructor: Benefits and barriers to instructor-led serious gaming. In proceedings of VS-Games, 2015 7th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (pp. 1-8). IEEE.
  • Tsekleves, E., Cosmas, J., & Aggoun, A. (2016). Benefits, barriers and guideline recommendations for the implementation of serious games in education for stakeholders and policymakers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(1), 164–183.
  • Wouters, P., & Van Oostendorp, H. (2013). A meta-analytic review of the role of instructional support in game-based learning. Computers & Education, 60(1), 412-425
  • Minecraft
  • Portal
  • Arduino
  • Gravity simulator


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Games and formal education: a difficult marriage

“[The limitations on games in formal education?]  Undoubtedly, timetabling is one. And it’s an issue that’s been debated for years, because it creates many problems. […] Our timetable, our morning, is divided into slots separated by the ring of the bell bringing the lesson to a close. Generally, the use of technology clashes with this idea of whatever’s happening, the lesson is over now”. – Quote from an interview with an interview with an educator. EI01

Description

Integrating games in formal education is not easy. Firstly, not all teachers are familiar with games or game-based learning and not all students see this ‘marriage’ favourably, especially when asked to play serious games, which often do not have the engaging power of entertainment games. Secondly, gaming is by definition a free exploratory activity, while formal education has its rules, its constraints, and sometimes the use of games isn’t compatible with these restrictions. More in general, playing at school is almost an oxymoron: the nature of play is such that it cannot be done ‘under teacher supervision’, that is, with a teacher who chooses where, when, and what to play. How can these tensions be tackled? Can such a marriage actually work? And if so, should games be adapted to the existing school system, or should school change to better embrace the flexibility required by gaming and by other types of technology supported activities?

It is probably no coincidence that nine out of our twelve educator-interviewees were players themselves or had been in the past. Nor is it surprising that their teaching with games largely appeared to be informed and fuelled by their experience as players. There is a wide variety of ways the potential of games can be harnessed for educational purposes: from the most obvious – though not risk free – use of serious games developed expressly to achieve specific learning objectives, to the use of popular entertainment or artistic games to stimulate reflection and discussion on ethical or philosophical questions (e.g. That Dragon, Cancer; Fragments of Him; Dear Esther). Our research also suggests that the time is not yet ripe for the creation of a school context which is fully supportive of teachers’ efforts to adopt game based learning approaches. School managers, teachers and parents are generically in favour of game based learning due to its recent popularity. However, there is also an underlying scepticism, especially among parents and teachers, that play can support learning as well as, and often better, than other teaching practices.

Meet Jan, a middle school maths teacher and Irina, who teaches geography and history in upper secondary school

Jan teaches maths in the third year of a lower secondary school. His pupils will face the national exam this year, so he feels very committed to making sure they will be able to pass their first important summative test. The class consists of 25 children, most of whom are around 13 years old, with big differences as to commitment and learning outcomes. Jan believes the better performing students could be of much help to the others, but this is not happening spontaneously because several students are new to the class and the atmosphere is not collaborative enough.

For this reason, he has designed a gamified path connecting the main topics of the math curriculum, and for most of these topics he has found or invented a game supporting its learning. Recently,

Recently, the headmaster has been encouraging Jan get the other teachers involved and scale it up to school level. Recently, the headmaster has been encouraging Jan to get the other teachers involved and scale it up to school level. A discussion among them has convinced them that gamification intended as ‘pointification’ (adding points and badges for motivational purposes but without deeper integration with the content) is not what they want. They are afraid that too much competition can create more problems than advantages. Anxiety is not the kind of feeling they want to prevail inside their classes. Jan’s colleagues enriched the path with new activities and games, and their creative input has proved very useful. This is turning out to be quite a lot of workload, but it also has some big advantages. Firstly, the switch they made to inter-class competition makes the atmosphere inside each class more cohesive, as it leads classmates to support one another. Secondly, the typical scepticism of parents now clashes with a whole team of teachers very much convinced of the approach, which helps a lot.


Jan’s wife, Irina, is a teacher too. She works in an upper secondary school, where she teaches history and geography. They often discuss the ways games can be harnessed for learning. Irina has only recently begun introducing games in her classes, but her school principal is sceptical and has been less supportive than Jan’s was, making it much more challenging to get the resources and institutional backing she needs. She therefore has to count on her own resources and time only. Luckily, as a gamer, she knows a lot of games. She’s found one, called Rise of Nations, that’s ideal for introducing her students to complex geopolitical topics. She’s confident that playing the  game will help give them a firmer grasp of geopolitics than they  would otherwise get through the rote learning of notions.

The demands of the school timetable mean that she can only manage a single one-hour game session per week in class. So Irina has encouraged the students to carry on playing outside school hours and then discuss their thoughts and impressions about the game content in class.

In a nutshell

Teacher education and professional development in support of game based education should be promoted and should focus on specific game based learning design principles, including criteria for game choice as one of the decisions teachers take while designing for learning. Although most of the responsibility for pedagogical design will be on teachers’ shoulders, they should not be left unsupported. To deal with the limitations imposed by formal education contexts, teachers need active support from all stakeholders: school leaders, their fellow teachers, researchers, students and parents. 

Investments in teachers’ professional development and in research in learning design principles for game based learning are needed. As recent learning design research has pointed out, participatory approaches to learning design are to be privileged, centred as they are on communities of practice. These allow  teachers to access and share success stories and failures, with the aim of overcoming problems and devising innovative solutions, and increasing awareness of both the potential and the pitfalls of using games for learning.

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Arts and entertainment games research

‘[Interviewer] You say you’ve tried to get your games to academics to test, how has that worked out?  Has it actually happened?

[Developer] No, it has not.  […]  Maybe it’s a money issue, maybe it’s the time, […].  I think the resources are probably pretty limited for people’ – Quote from an interview with a developer. LSD28828.

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Description

During Gaming Horizons’research, it emerged that opportunities for applied and fundamental research into serious/applied games differed sharply from those for arts/entertainment games. Games research was most commonly situated in instrumentalist contexts, focusing mostly on direct and measurable impact on learning or antisocial behaviour, and rarely in the context of their creative, expressive, or artistic possibilities. From an industrial perspective, there was no sense of established collaboration with researchers, nor any sense that a change was impending in this relationship. The work of academic researchers appears to be entirely out of touch with the arts and entertainment games sector. The analysis of EU funding policies showed a strong emphasis on viewing the video game industry as an engineering sector, with research entirely focused on tools development and generally directed towards the serious/applied sector. Interviewees strongly criticised both the relevance and effectiveness of this research funding strategy to support the political, economic, and cultural needs of the EU. Researchers (and any developers that wish to work with them) are currently heavily restricted to working in the framing of the serious/applied sector, despite the widespread doubts about this sector’s effectiveness shown by the Gaming Horizons interviewees.

Meet Silvia, a game developer, and Juana, a researcher

Silvia’s studio has some immediate questions they need to examine in the context of the whole experience that they are trying to create. Trying out the systems in another game might give them a clue, but an educational game is aiming for a different player experience so the results wouldn’t be easy to apply to Silvia’s work. The length of time for results would be a big problem for them too: Silvia’s studio wants to get results in a matter of months, not years. If Juana could be funded to work directly with the studio and on their immediate problems then she would be able to help, but at the moment nothing can be done.

Unfortunately, after this disappointment, Silvia is unlikely to bother asking again and she is left feeling like researchers have nothing to offer her industry.

In a nutshell

Current funding for research into the arts and entertainment video game industry is entirely inadequate to the needs of the artists and developers.

  • Removing arbitrary delineations between serious/applied games funding and arts/entertainment funding would allow more interchange of knowledge and creative approaches to the use of gaming technologies.
  • Showing recognition in research funding calls for the cultural impact of games (beyond only technological and economic impacts) will open avenues of both applied and fundamental research into video game development.
  • Fundamental aspects of video game development beyond ‘tech’ (i.e. visual arts, animation, audio, production, storytelling methods and technologies, etc.) need to be explicitly supported to enhance the creative range and strength of the industry. This is a necessary long-term investment to supporting the future competitiveness of European games development when compared with other global regions.
  • Applied collaborations of research with industry partners need to be done on game-production timescales, not academic/administrative ones, and so funding calls must reflect the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of creative industry requirements – year long application and review processes are entirely inadequate for the needs of the video game industry.

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Game literacy in the curriculum

“I feel like our school system […] is not very game friendly in any way, shape or form. I think that’s a big problem. I think they really need to start – because there’s so much tremendous opportunity there.”- Quote from an interview with an educatorPE02

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Description

Many of those who took part in our interviews enthusiastically described the ways in which video games could be employed for educational purposes, but it was clear that these are often talked about as opportunities that are not yet being fully realised. In part, these ideas of what we are calling ‘game literacy’ involve enabling students to understand games; how they are conceived and constructed, the lives and stories that they represent, the cultural and global context in which they are created, even giving young children hands-on opportunities to develop their own games. In addition, interview participants talked about games as multimodal texts that can be actively read but also ‘lived’ and experienced by players, as a cultural and empathy-building experience.

Drawing on our interviews and workshops, these ideas are framed in relation to particular understandings of literacy, rather than necessarily being aligned with the computing or information technology aspects of the school curriculum. As such, these perspectives focus on multimodality and cultural enrichment, underpinned by the need to develop an alternative understanding of literacy. This involves the educator valuing (and being enabled or even permitted to value) multiple modes of meaning making, moving beyond common conceptions of school-based literacy that involve only written texts and rigidly defined outcomes.

These understandings of literacy already exist and are established in the field of new literacies and multiliteracies, through the work of James Gee, Brian Street, The New London Group etc. However, they are not the dominant conceptualisations of literacy that are currently being drawn upon by policy makers, who tend to favour a skills based approach that generates measurable outcomes.

In the first dimensions of this scenario, therefore, we envisage a classroom that is open to the use of video games as educational resources and experiences, working around existing curricular restraints through a generous interpretation of the curriculum. In the second dimension, we strive to imagine an educational system bolstered by policy which actively acknowledges the cultural value of video games and even encourages their use, drawing on the extensive research around new literacies as a basis for creating this shift.

Meet Simon, a primary school teacher

Simon is a primary school teacher in the UK, in his fourth full year of teaching. He is currently responsible for a class of 27 ten-year-old children, as well as coordinating Literacy across the school. He enjoys his job and has developed a positive rapport with his class. In part, he attributes this positive relationship to the fact that he values the interests of the children and strives to make his teaching relevant and interesting for them. He is aware that many (but not all) of the children in his class are regular users of technology at home and feels that his classroom, and the school more widely, should reflect and take account of this ‘real world’ situation.

Faced with a Literacy curriculum that makes no mention of using technology – let alone games – in lessons, Simon has nevertheless made his classroom a place where videogames are valued as a relevant cultural resource alongside other media such as films, books, and other print media. He has used games on various occasions, thinking of them as ‘texts’  that contain and generate meaning, in similar ways to more traditional print based texts. He has used video games as a stimulus for descriptive writing (using the visually intriguing exploration game ‘Myst’), explored the idea of personification (using the independent, narrative puzzle game ‘Thomas was Alone’) and helped children to create their own text based games (using the free game creation software called ‘Twine’). He has also run a club at lunchtimes where children play ‘Minecraft’ on the school iPads, working together in small groups to create virtual play spaces. He is always enthused by the social interactions that this generates during the club.

 

Many other teachers in the school are less confident with using games in their classroom. However, through a series of staff meetings, Simon has introduced them to some possible ways in which video games could be brought into their classrooms often with little technical knowledge on the part of the teacher. This often involves the use of paratexts – print based and video texts that refer to video games – rather than directly using the games themselves. So, in other classes, teachers have been encouraged to supplement their existing resources with ‘how to’ guides for popular video games such as ‘Assassins Creed’, and even use video trailers for games in lessons as a means of discussing issues around critical literacy. As a result, the literacy curriculum experienced by the children is one enriched by a mixture of traditional texts with video games and other media from popular culture.

All of this has only been possible with the support of the headteacher, who believes that teachers should be encouraged to innovate in order to provide exciting, relevant learning opportunities for pupils.

 

Meet Andrea, Educational Policy Maker and Curriculum designer

Andrea has a role in designing the literacy curriculum for primary school children in the UK. As part of a new government assembled team, Andrea has listened to teachers, educational professionals and researchers. They have expressed concerns that the existing curriculum is limiting the opportunities for teachers to deliver exciting, relevant and innovative literacy lessons that reflect the way in which literacies (as social practices) are lived and experienced in the 21st Century. Having grown up playing video games herself, Andrea also has a good sense of the cultural significance of the form and understands that video games have a potentially significant role to play in the lives of children, at home and in school. At school, this involves educating children about video games, as well as using video games as a educational resource, all the while encouraging and promoting a critical approach – just as learning in school traditionally involves teaching about books, and using books.

With this in mind, rather than being driven purely by outdated notions of literacy simply as a pre-defined set of skills to be taken on by children, Andrea and her team develop a curriculum that takes a broader view of literacy. Amongst other things, this supports teachers in understanding and using video games as multimodal texts with multiple affordances. This refined curriculum includes examples of the ways in which specific video games could be used by teachers as rich, multimodal texts that allow children to explore ideas of narrative and character; to consider issues of representation and motive in games; to explore the ways in which different game environments and settings influence or interact with the player. Suggestions on how some games can be used in social contexts can encourage teachers to look beyond outdated and limiting notions of video game play as a purely solitary pursuit; instead, teachers can consider how collaborative play experiences offer their own educational potential. There is also suggestion that paratexts around video games can provide excellent resources for prompting creative responses, written, spoken and performed by children alongside, of course, more established and traditional print based texts.

As well as being framed as texts to be read, video games are also positioned as artefacts to be remixed and created by children, alongside other visual and audio media. This ranges from early stages of design, through to hands-on video game creation, afforded by pre-existing and specially commissioned software designed to scaffold the game creation process for younger users. This curriculum is published online, featuring a significant  interactive repository section that enables teachers and educational professionals to upload and link their own resources and ideas, making this a truly collaborative vision for an innovative and exciting curriculum that can finally be considered ‘game friendly’.

 

In a nutshell

There is a significant and relatively untapped potential for using video games in educational contexts, often held back by the restrictions posed by standardised curriculum requirements.

This has been a recurring theme throughout the project, with the overarching recommendation being that we all need to move beyond the realm of ‘serious games’ to include what might otherwise be considered ‘entertainment’ games into the classroom. This process of inclusion has more to do with literacy, than with the computing or information technology aspects of the school curriculum.

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The discourse around games

“We have this silly word ‘game’ and it just sort of encompasses everything […] in a sense there isn’t necessarily a lot similar, you know, if you have to actually make parallels between ‘Uncharted 313’ and ‘Candy Crush 14’, it is a completely different kind of experience, […] the interactions are completely different and the experience is completely different, and where you might play that is completely different”. Quote from an interview with a researcher. R03.

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Description

During the project, participants talked of the need to understand games as complex and multiple, rather than acting as if there is anything like a ‘generic’ video game. One participant even suggested that it was the responsibility of researchers and other professionals to re-write the canon by turning the focus of their gaze towards games that were less commercial or less readily written about.

The view of gaming as a complex medium assumes that under the broad umbrella of gaming there is a multitude of different themes, mechanics and content, in the same way as ‘film’ is a medium that incorporates anything from video art, to documentary, to Hollywood blockbuster.  This view is  increasingly accepted but still faces some resistance which, perhaps unwittingly, seems to originate in the so-called ‘gamer’ cultures. Here, rather arbitrary distinctions seem to exist between real games, usually focusing on player mastery, competition and clearly defined win/lose states,  and ‘non-games’ or ‘artistic games’ which experiment with and sometimes subvert those categories.    

The identities and professional profiles of those who make games are also changing, reflecting a diverse range of personal, educational and technical backgrounds, and different design priorities are not necessarily aligned with those of large commercial publishers and the so-called ‘mainstream’ industry.  

Meet Steven, a journalist and Daisy, a game developer

Daisy is an independent game developer. Her trajectory started while she was still at university, studying in a game development course. She put her studies on hold when she got a job in a large development studio as a junior animator.  Nonetheless, Daisy thinks her university experience is a valuable source of inspiration and cultural diversity. She fondly remembers attending extracurricular seminars in the sociology department, meeting and conversing with students and lecturers about different topics and interests.  Over the past five years Daisy has worked on many games, but always felt that the focus on specific tasks within large projects was too narrow.  This year, Daisy decided to ‘go indie’, setting up a small studio with a couple of trusted friends. Her first project is based on a personal exploration of issues that matter to her personally – she wants to create an interactive experience that challenges expectations of what a game can do. They are conscious that such a game wouldn’t necessarily have mass appeal, and they are ok with it. With her friends and colleagues, she decides that crowdfunding offers the best chance to ensure creative independence and a direct connection with their intended audience. They hope to make a small profit to support their livelihoods and continue doing what really interests them. Days starts by tapping into her networks to do some marketing and raise the profile of the studio and the first game. After some time she lands an interview with Steven, a freelance journalist who writes about technology and games for a number of online and printed outlets. Steven is a keen technology enthusiast and a gamer. Immediately, the interview takes a slightly disappointing turn for Daisy…

 A more mature approach towards gaming, coupled with an acknowledgment of the complexity and multifaceted nature of this medium, could boost efforts to develop, understand, research and use video games in new, innovative, exciting and relevant ways. Dominant ways of understanding video games, and what they are, need challenging at all levels in order to generate more generous and nuanced understandings of the medium and its possibilities, in relation to education, culture and society.

In a nutshell

Although we often talk about video games as a singular entity, they are, in reality, diverse and complex. As a medium they offer a range of different features, experiences and opportunities to players in a varied range of contexts.

By considering games as singular, however, we are potentially simplifying debates and maybe even lowering our expectations. Funders, researchers, educators and developers are all responsible for advocating a more diverse and multifaceted notion of what a game can be or do. Funding Social Science and Humanities (SSH) research projects that survey the representation of cultural themes would allow the development of video games studies in curriculums at all educational levels, and increase their future relevance.

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Funding and supporting games as culture

“I think any entertainment game can be defined an applied or serious game the moment they can touch somebody’s feeling, so, I don’t know, I feel […]  that there should not be that much separation between entertainment games and serious games, to be honest” – quote from an interview with a developer. LSD2879

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Who decides what is serious and what isn’t? Nowhere more than in the gaming industry does this question cause frustration and confusion. The contested and arbitrary nature of such a label has been noted by others before. Gaming Horizons simply confirmed it. It is perhaps understandable that, when it comes to taxpayer money, many worry that funding should be highly selective and not go to projects that may be perceived by the general public to be frivolous.

At the same time, our research on European funding highlighted some unclear strategies in relation to serious and applied gaming. It was difficult to tell if Europe wants to support serious gaming because it is right and ethically justified (according to criteria of social value), or because it is viewed as a promising sector that will contribute to economic growth and more jobs.

The contradiction at the heart of this tension should not be underestimated. Some argue that criteria of social utility, value and worth are best negotiated in the context of citizenship and democratic dialogue, while prioritising the market and economic benefits over everything else will ultimately lead to cultural impoverishment and trivialisation.

Meet Sanna, an EU Policy Advisor and Kim, a game critic

Sanna is a policy advisor who has been working with the EU for more than 10 years trying to bring a multidisciplinary perspective into the EU Research & Development (R&D) agenda. Such multidisciplinarity is reflected in her own background in philosophy and engineering. Sanna is very much interested in matters of social responsibility and ethical design – she has focused on the grand socio-technical challenges such as AI, big data and automation. Recently, she was assigned to a working group who will help shape the European agenda on serious gaming and gamification. The overarching objective of all R&D strategies in Europe is to create favourable conditions for innovation, market growth and employment, and this applies also to serious gaming. Quickly, however, Sanna becomes aware of a contradiction: while market growth and a self-sustaining business model may be the aspiration, the European serious games sector relies heavily on public funding. Sanna is struck by the contrast between the dynamism of the ‘entertainment’ gaming industry,  in touch with the trends, debates and the cultural tastes of modern society, and a serious games industry that exists in a rather insulated space, where academic research and small or medium-sized companies depend on institutional support to survive. As part of her new role, she organises a consultation workshop to gather views from a wide range of stakeholders, beyond the traditional EU-funded networks. Participants include independent game developers, representatives from game publishing companies, and a video game critic called Kim. Kim is an outspoken advocate of independent games and digital arts, and quickly makes a thought-provoking observation about cultural value, commercial viability and ‘seriousness’. She claims it is possible to create games which wouldn’t necessarily be called ‘serious’, but which nonetheless are important and have cultural, artistic and societal relevance. Most importantly, she suggests that cultural and artistic relevance are not commercial constraints, but can in fact ensure forms of market viability which are perfectly suited to small and medium sized companies. Kim proceeds to illustrate several examples of small, culturally important games that managed to be profitable. She also emphasises the importance to engage with those mediation and curation channels (online communities, digital distribution platforms, games journalists, YouTube content creators) who can enhance the visibility of games and, thus, their commercial success.

In a nutshell

Criteria of social, artistic and cultural value can be part of an effective business model for games ‘with a conscience’, beyond restrictive labels such as ‘serious’ or ‘recreational’.

Artistic and cultural relevance are not barriers to commercial viability but can in fact enhance market appeal in some cases. Public funding is still needed to support game developers or researchers that seek not only commercial success but also positive social impacts. However, criteria of social, artistic and cultural value should have more weight than they currently do in funding strategies. These criteria should not be viewed as fixed but can be negotiated through regular consultations with relevant stakeholders.

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