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  • Finding The Fun In Serious Games

    - Daniel Wilhite
  •  Serious Definition

    Put simply, a serious game is one designed with entertainment not as the main intent. Many ways to work that and many different ways to name a serious game but this is a concept that has been around for a long time and a title that is becoming more and more recognized. As a growing industry, especially with newer and more refined platforms to utilize, serious games are on the rise in the current market.

    While these games may not be created to dazzle and delight, that does not mean they are incapable of doing so. If America's Army is any sort of example, a game that spawned a number of sequels since its original debut, a game meant for training can be a load of fun. While there are serious games out there created to send a message, I'm going to be focusing on ones that are meant for more in-depth simulation.

    Serious Controls

    One of the first things a player will familiarize themselves with and be introduced to is the control scheme. Even things outside the realm of serious games, genres such as simulators of any variety can have clunky and unintuitive controls to allow for operation of all features the developers have programmed into their version of realism. ARMA is one example where if you are unfamiliar with the control maps, you commonly won't be able to discover all you are able to do just by exploring the common binds associated with other military shooters that have less depth than something designed to give a feel of realism.

    Returning to America's Army, this too was the case however it was also created to be easy to learn by spending time in their handcrafted training missions to gain an expectation for what is in store. ARMA does this as well, but it doesn't go over every single facet which leaves a solo player scratching their head or reaching out for help.

    All that being said, the modern industry has provided new tools and platforms for serious game developers to utilize. Specifically, I would like to focus on Virtual Reality. VR is, at its core, an intuitive control scheme that is mostly designed to work on muscle memory to perform actions as you would in the real world. This rising platform is starting to gain traction when it comes to serious games as it, as stated just before, gives the use a more natural experience with interacting inside the application space. While not directly, more experience could be retained and put into practice given the field and game's design principles.

    What is boils down to is that, fun can be born from natural and familiar controls. By all means make sure your application contains the elements needed for its purpose, but the path a player must take to reach those functions needs to make sense and never be something they have to fight with once they gain competency.

    Serious Platform

    Let's continue to talk about VR as a platform. While there are others out there that might be able to facilitate the application in question, the control schemes attached to those platforms might not be adequate for interaction with the systems or provide a real enough sensation with the experience. This leaves the PC as the main development platform for serious games due to its highly customizable hardware and broad spectrum of capabilities. Attach to this a VR unit and you give your experience a new level of immersion and engagement should you choose to use motion controls along with your head mounted display.

    As stated in the last section, natural and intuitive control schemes give the player more experience to take with them outside of the simulation and a faster grip on what is expected out of them for any given action. You remove the need for independent keystrokes and aim for a contextual touch based interaction system that currently can only be found within VR or highly advanced control boards that are made only for a single application.  This is impractical for things outside of vehicle and gear manipulation for the most part as a more contextual input can be used for modifications to the application down the line.


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