Industries find serious uses for video games

Posted Friday, November 18 2005 04:53:56 am
By Mary Beth Lehman, Daily News (Ball State U.)
(U-WIRE) MUNCIE, Ind. -- Video games aren't just for fun anymore. The expanding genre of serious games can effectively help to train workers in some of the nation's most important industries including defense, education, health care and marketing.
Ben Sawyer is the cofounder of the Serious Games Initiative and the Games for Health Project. The initiatives work to expand on the technologies of game design and explore serious applications for games.
"The goal was to build a platform that could serve to promote the idea that there were tools within the computer game industry that could be applied outside the entertainment domain," Sawyer said.
There are three main sectors which Sawyer said are showing a lot of growth and promise this year: Defense, health care and education.
"In the military space, there's a lot of promise," Sawyer said. "I think they're only a few more years from making games a pervasive part of the way they train."
Education and health care industries show more room for growth, he said.
The military, however, has proved to be one of the more successful role models when it comes to creating serious games. As well as using games as training tools, the military has also used games as marketing tools.
"I'm really enthused by some of the military stuff that I've seen, like 'America's Army' I think has done a fantastic job building a new advertising and marketing model for the Army," Sawyer said, "I think some of the work has been really interesting."
One of the Army's more popular serious games, which has experienced a lot of success, is the military marketing tool "America's Army." The game, originally playable on PC on the Army's Web site, is now available for Xbox, as of Tuesday, and will be playable on Playstation 2 in January, according to Ubisoft executive producer Tony Van. The game was a joint effort between game developers and the Army.
"Our goal was to embrace the Army brand values, and create a new type of game for the crowded military market," Van said. Sawyer said in addition to getting a new entertainment game for consoles, Ubisoft and the Army have also expanded on their success with serious games by making the move to consoles.
"I think the taxpayers are getting a great deal for their money," Sawyer said, "Essentially the taxpayers funded the PC version."
Ubisoft feels that the transfer of a serious PC game to console will go off without a hitch. The company also denies accusations that the game is a recruiting tool.
"'America's Army: Rise of a Soldier' is a mainstream console game, and not a recruiting tool," Van said, "Ubisoft created a product to not only stand next to its other military games, but to compete against all the posers out there."
Sawyer said despite the success of games like "America's Army," the misconception in the field is that games will work as training tools just because they are games.
"The misconception is thinking that everything that works in traditional gaming translates to games that are going to work for training," Sawyer said, "We're a long way off from seeing such automatic transfer."
It doesn't always work out so well, though. As in any genre, there are always flops, Sawyer said.
"There's a lot of really interesting things we can do with these technologies," Sawyer said, "That doesn't necessarily mean we're building the next 'Super Mario.' ... We just have to keep exploring what this new type of game development really is and what works and what doesn't."

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