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Games are really serious

One of the strangest parts of life in the 21st century is that games have suddenly got serious.

A new age fact that is not new to everyone, ask John McEnroe onetime enfant terrible of the tennis court, or any disgruntled English football fan and they will tell you that games were always more than serious.

So it should come as no surprise that computer games are the latest leisure activity to make the transition from the fun to the functional and become well – serious.

“One of the main elements of modern computer games is that they create virtual role playing environments and that is something that is very useful in the educational field,” said Dr Eunice Ma, who recently headed up a one day seminar on Serious Games Development and Applications at Derby University.

The central plank of the serious games idea is that people do not get bored by carrying out repetitive tasks in virtual environments – something proved by the willingness of children to continue re-enacting the same scenario over and over again so that they can rise to a higher level in a particular game.

“The great thing about a computer scenario is that there is no penalty for failure and if you succeed it is esteem boosting,” said Derby’s Ma.

Derby University’s seminar, which introduced 30 experts from eight different countries from fields ranging from psychologists to soldiers, is the latest of a series of initiatives in the area of serious games to have come out of the Midlands, and is building on the successful establishment of Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute.

“One of the great things about serious gaming in relation to learning is that it’s a lot more interactive than other educational environments and it can allow people to learn through role play,” said Sophie Bauer, Project Officer the Serious Games Institute.

“The other advantage is that the scenarios are completely immersive because of the video game interface, that means that when a player enters the game that their role is to influence an environment that has been created for them.”

It is an application of the video games interfaces that Bauer claims is now really taking off with many companies in the US and Europe now seeing the technology’s potential.

According to Bauer the systems are already achieving significant results.

“There are obvious advantages in terms of cost because you can’t break something in virtual reality. The learning advantages are also there because people don’t mind getting better at a task where there is no-one there to judge them. They break down barriers and are fun and they improve hand eye co-ordination – something that is now being looked into by the medical sector.”

Indeed the practitioners of the new technology have taken their new toys so much to heart that they now hold conferences using avatars of themselves in the virtual reality world Second Life – a development that begs the question of how long Derby University will be able to run a real life conference in the field?