Market growing for ‘serious games’

Military personnel, scientists, educators, policy-makers and medical researchers gathered near Washington, D.C. last month to see and play all the latest video games.

But the games showcased at the second annual Serious Games Summit in Crystal City, Va. are more than just regular video games; their purpose is to educate.

And according to the Serious Games Initiative, a project started at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C., they have the potential to help solve national problems.

Attendees discussed the success and future of “serious games” and their applications to real life areas such as education, health care and homeland security.

“[We’re] gaming our way to a better world,” said a spokesman for Serious Games Initiative.

Breakaway, an influential company in “serious games” development, featured many of their games at the summit.

The company featured “Code Orange,” a simulation that health care professionals around the country will use to learn to handle emergencies involving tens of thousands of deaths.

Together with the International Center of Nonviolent Conflict, Breakaway developed “A Force More Powerful,” a strategy game that teaches players how to solve conflict without using violence.

“The idea was to use the game to transfer knowledge about nonviolent action,” said Ivan Marovic, who works with the ICNC. “The game can help more than movies and books because activists can simulate different situations and try different strategies before they try them in real life.”

“[It has] been used successfully all over the world by individuals and groups struggling to win freedom or secure human rights,” according to a statement on Breakaway’s Web site.

But private companies are not the sole producers of “serious games.”

The U.S. Army released “America’s Army” in 2002, a game that the Army uses as a recruitment tool and a simulator to teach experienced soldiers about new equipment.

The game is a “realistic depiction of the values, units, equipment and career opportunities that make the Army the world’s premier land force,” according to the game’s Web site.

“We’ve had success above anticipated,” said Col. Casey Wardnyski, a speaker at the summit and overseer of the game program. Wardnyski said the game has taken the place of many larger and more expensive simulation training chambers.

Other companies have also been pioneers in the serious gaming market.

The summit introduced new video game simulations to teach doctors to perform surgeries, train medical and police responders to deal more efficiently with terrorist attacks and natural disasters, and sooth kids as they undergo and recuperate from painful medical procedures.

Companies hope that “serious games” will make an even greater impact in the future.

“[The games] are not specifically entertainment, but they use entertainment or the techniques and processes of the entertainment business to achieve a purpose,” said Doug Whatley, CEO of Breakaway. “They will fundamentally change the way we train, educate, and interact with the real world.”

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