I’ve had conversations – conversations with game designer friends, gamers and programmers. I have noticed that a great number of them seem to disagree on the terms ‘edutainment,’ and ‘serious games.’ I remember having a conversation with one of my friends – she was working as a junior nurse inside a major hospital. I asked her: do you get to play many simulations, or games as a nurse in training? Her answer: simulations yes, games no. Then she said to me – why games? Nursing is a serious field, why should we have nurses play games? I thought that was a fair question.
At the time, I was reading Karl M. Kapp’s book on gamification and training, and for the most part – I felt somewhat convinced that gamification was the way of the future. Whenever I taught music, or took contemplative solitary walks, I saw the world through the lens of a gamer. My internal dialogue was filled with lines that sounded something like this: ten points for sprinting round the oval, twenty points for jogging around it twice, etc… I guess my thoughts weren’t so different to Jesse Schell’s address at the 2010 DICE conference. When I talked to my nursing friend, I felt like I had to defend myself. Not sure why because by default, I like to observe arguments and I tend to sit on the fence (and I’ve noticed that my ambivalence can annoy people!), but I suppose when I spoke to her, games started to become my worldview – I saw so much potential in gamifying my own reality. I told my friend about the book I was reading, and I also told her that games can be serious – in fact that there is a whole genre of games called ‘serious games!’ I kept trying to defend myself, saying things like: I know that people in the medical field train their newbies through simulations, which aren’t really games, but games give the player real-time rewards, instant feedback, by means of points, levels and badges – and this is a highly effective teaching tool. Besides this, games give their players a safe environment to make mistakes, if you say something highly unethical to a patient in a game, the repercussions aren’t as bad, and you can make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment. Conversation after that was light, rather than engaging ourselves in an argument on words and the appropriateness of games in a nursing context, we started to agree with each other on the implications of games in learning, on games and their limitations, and on how games can be effectively applied in education and training. It made me think more about the term ‘serious game,’ and whether it was a term used ultimately to get the skeptical people into believing in the powerful potential of games and learning.
Later on, I had a conversation with a friend who is a gamer and indie games designer. This friend said to me that he hated the term ‘serious game,’ mostly because it implied that games in this context (i.e. education and training), couldn’t be fun or interesting… And since he was a human being with a sense of humour the word ‘serious’ just seemed a little bit, well… too ‘serious’ for him. Another friend, who happened to be studying computer science right now (the same friend makes basic games for fun) said he liked the term ‘edutainment’ but thought the term ‘serious game’ was a tad bit silly – why does learning have to be ‘serious’ anyway?
It’s interesting… interesting because I have it flipped – I really don’t like the term ‘edutainment.’ To me, edutainment implies that the skills learned from the digital game are trivial, frivolous and unsophisticated. Furthermore, I have noticed that ‘edutainment’ as a term is often seen as some sort of a balancing act. Have you ever played an educational game that is so preachy that it made you cringe? You know those games that desperately try to be ‘cool’ and ‘fun?’ Rather than wanting to play them, you feel turned off by these games, and bored… See, that’s where a game has too much ‘edu’ and not enough ‘tainment’ – at least that is the case if you believe in the idea that you have to balance these two (apparently) conflicting worlds. The neutral term that I have come to adopt and use somewhat frequently is game-based learning (GBL)… However, I like to use the term ‘serious game’ because it tends to get less eye-rolls and more wows in everyday conversation… but I would love to know about your thoughts on the terms ‘edutainment’ and ‘serious games.’