Serious About Games


Imagine building a world where you can tackle a global health epidemic; or pulverise the cancer cells multiplying in your own body; or negotiate a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis; or grow your own enterprise into a multinational corporation; or explore the laws of physics.


The on-line computer games industry is no longer solely the domain of interactive entertainment, and shoot-em-ups. On-line computer games now exist that deal with issues relating to science, health, defence, education, and social change and over 50 per cent of on-line gamers are women. On-line computer games are part of corporate offices, classrooms (in schools and universities), factories, and doctors’ clinics.

Yet, at the end of last year, in the weeks when media commentaries were dominated by the semantics of whether Australia had real broadband or a ‘ disgrace,’ the positive application of on-line games their educational and economic potential, and the fact that the first generation to grow up with the internet will soon become part of the working fabric of Australia remained unrecognised and unexplored.

For instance, there has been scant attention paid to the University of South Australia’ s Centre of Allied Health Evidence’ s study of children with serious burn injuries which found ‘ strong evidence’ supporting the use of virtual reality-based computer games in pain management.

Across Asia, the UK and the US, business, governments, and educators are realising that on-line computer games technologies have the potential to provide a fully personalised, responsive and enjoyable learning experience one which assists players’ (learners’ ) interactivity and innovation, develops strategic and collaborative skills, and allows for hypothesis testing and direct and immediate feedback.

Sometimes loosely grouped under the name of ‘ serious games,’ game-based learning, be it on-line or not, is a rapidly developing phenomenon with many industry applications.

And while the market for entertainment games is relatively mature, education, training, pedagogical, and serious game-based learning is growing at six times the rate of the conventional video games industry.

Acclaimed games designer and producer, Noah Falstein, who is also on the Boards of the organisation that put together both the 2006 Serious Games Summit and the 2006 Games for Health Conference, says:

I think it is inevitable that computer games with purposes beyond entertainment, will some day grow to rival and eclipse the current entertainment-only game market, perhaps even within the next 10 years. All that is needed is for game-based applications to grab just one or two per cent of the multi-trillion dollar global education and training market. With more and more people growing up immersed in video games, interactive training is second nature, and more efficient than many traditional educational methods.

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

Serious games are a serious business opportunity in the economic powerhouse that is modern China, where much of the training for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, particularly in the areas of safety and security, is being augmented with computer based simulations and games-based learning. Simulation based games (‘ Fire Department 3’ ) are also being developed for crisis response training and fire fighters in Chengdu City as well as manufacturers (logistics workflow), investment bankers, and education.

One of the most ambitious of these Chinese education projects is ‘Knowledge Discovery’ , a massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game (MMORPG), with embedded high-school text books and learning materials. As players explore the game world and interact with different characters, they are able to use the knowledge they are learning to complete quests and game levels.

Singapore is also making multi-million dollar investments in its education and digital media sectors, fast becoming a world-leader in games-based learning.

And in the UK, on 4 October 2006, ex-film producer and now life peer, Lord David Puttnam launched a report entitled ‘ Unlimited Learning: Computer and Video Games in the Learning Landscape.’ Puttnam said:

Increasingly video games are being recognised as a powerful tool for learning. Yes of course they are entertaining and a lot of fun, but they’ ve also the ability to inspire and motivate They can promote ideas, they can stimulate conversation, challenge thinking and, critically for the future of our highly skills-dependent economy, they can encourage problem solving. Now what we are talking about here is computer games not just as games, but as a whole new learning form or platform of learning and one that has quite literally, unlimited learning potential.

Contrast these initiatives with the arguments made by Joshua Gans, Professor of Economics at Melbourne Business School, in his paper released on 6 December 2006, which suggest that Australia should sit back and enjoy the advantages of being a laggard in terms of broadband speeds and uptake because ‘ real’ broadband is primarily used only for computer games.

To be relaxed and comfortable about the current speeds of broadband access in Australia, is to deny Australians access to the skills and learning of our international counterparts. And it also retards the development of strong and robust digital media and educational industries in this country.

In the last five years, Australia has increased its output of tradeable goods by just 2 per cent, and the drought doesn’ t look like abating any time soon.

Attaining national broadband speeds of 100Mbps in Australia (for more than half of us, the current speed is just 512kbps) is not just a whim or a luxury this is essential infrastructure. It would not only help position Australian digital media industries so they could take a slice of the global multi-trillion dollar education market, it would also ensure that future Australians (whether they be entrepreneurs, employees or students) have the same opportunities as our international counterparts.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.