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Current uses of serious games

The number of ways serious games can be used is increasing and expanding beyond the areas where serious games have initially proved successful. According to one collaborative online database of serious games (, over 3,000 games have been classified according to their purpose (e.g., training, marketing), market (e.g., corporate, government, military, education) and target audience (e.g., general public, professionals, students), alongside user-contributed keywords. Although the database is extensive, it is probably an underestimate of the use of games for various purposes, because the database does not include many custom or proprietary games.

Today, serious games are used in healthcare, education, government, military and corporate environments. In healthcare, serious games have been used in such diverse areas as physical fitness, patient education, rehabilitation, clinical training, diagnosis of mental disorders, improvement of cognitive functioning and biofeedback control (Michael & Chen, 2006; Ricciardi & De Paolis, 2014; Susi, Johannesson & Backlund, 2007). In education, games have been used at all levels (pre-nursery through to postgraduate) to enhance learning and skill development across a wide number of subjects (Vogel, Vogel, Cannon- Bowers, Bowers, Muse & Wright, 2006; Wouters, van Nimwegen, van Oostendorp & van der Spek, 2013). These days, it would be rare to find a student in most developed countries that has not played at least one serious game during the course of their education (Michael & Chen, 2006).

The US government has utilized serious games across municipal, state and federal levels mainly for training employees in areas such as pandemics, biohazards, disaster management, city planning, police and firefighter training, ethics and policy training, and even defensive driving (Michael & Chen, 2006; Squire & Jenkins, 2003). The military is by far the largest developer and consumer of serious games (Susi, Johannesson & Backlund, 2007). Primarily used for training purposes, serious games offer the military a means to train its members on complex and/or dangerous situations that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive or too risky to accomplish in a real-world situation.

Although not primarily designed for training purposes, many consider the U.S. Army’s release of the video game America’s Army ( to be the start of

Table 14.1 Game elements.

Game Element





This element usually involves solving a series of problems or completing a series of tasks, but can take other forms, such as responding to in-game characters, choosing appropriate paths (literal or figurative) to reach the goal, or collecting items or pieces of information that impact the outcome.



Every game should have one or more goals the player must accomplish. This may simply be gaining as many ‘points’ as possible or successfully completing the game. Some games are designed with competing goals in order to enhance the level of challenge (e.g., achieve the right balance between earning money and keeping the business running). Goals in games may be implicit or explicit.


Without some rules, a game would essentially be pointless. Rules may take the form of limiting certain actions or movements, requiring certain items to be obtained before being able to accomplish certain tasks or completing a series of tasks successfully in order to advance to the next level. A good game contains enough rules to make the game challenging, but not have too many rules that it leads to player frustration.

Adaptive or Branching Game Play

Games incorporate some form of adaptive or branching process to allow for multiple outcomes and/or game experiences. Some extremely complex games can give the impression that they a form of artificial intelligence built into them (although this has yet to be fully achieved), whereas other games leverage branching methods to increase the number of potential outcomes within a finite number of possible paths. Allowing multiple players to participate can greatly enhance this characteristic, as long as the actions of the other players can influence the experience/outcome.


Players need to be able to influence the game play to some extent. Having total control would detract from the challenging aspect(s) of the game, but having no control would result in frustration or boredom. Games should encourage players to explore alternative paths to achieve the goal(s) by manipulating the game environment, characters or objects within the game, or the sequence in which they complete certain tasks or activities.



Feedback on a player’s performance during the game provides the player with information on the success (or failure) of their actions in order to direct them towards achieving a positive or desired outcome. Feedback can be explicit or implicit. Explicit feedback can take the form of points displayed on screen, noting achievement of certain objectives, audio/visual cues when certain actions are taken or progression on to subsequent levels. Explicit feedback can also include comparison and/or competition with other players (e.g., ranks, badges, leader boards). Implicit feedback can be expressed by characters within the game or other subtle cues in the game environment.


Similar to the characteristic of adaptive or branching game play, the use of uncertainty in a game evokes suspense and increases player engagement. The right move/action/decision should not be transparent, otherwise the game would be too easy and players would quickly lose interest. There does, however, need to be some rationale behind the uncertainty, so that players will understand the reason for the outcome once the move/action/decision has been made.



Sensory stimuli can refer to graphics (static or animated), video, sounds and/or storylines used to excite the senses and increase immersion in the game. Stimuli should be used in the right amount, as too much will overwhelm the player, but not enough could result in decreased engagement.



Given the increasing penetration of technology into daily life, most games incorporate some form of technology. This can take the form of multimedia (video or animation), computer/online delivery, smart phone apps or even popular gaming consoles.

today's serious gaming era. Towards the end of the 1990s, recruitment numbers were dwindling, and the Army needed a new tool to attract and engage its target demographic of 18-25-year-old males. Given the popularity of ‘first person shooter' console video games such as Halo and Call of Duty, the Army hoped to capitalize on the potential to increase their recruitment numbers through a serious games approach (Gudmundsen, 2006). America’s Army was and continues to be an extremely effective recruitment tool, enabling potential recruits to try their hand at various specialities and gain a quasi-firsthand experience of what it is like to be a soldier by playing a game that is very similar to popular entertainment games (Grossman, 2005).

In the corporate world, the use of serious games has increased exponentially over the past decade, and new applications are currently being developed (e.g., Dale, 2014). Like the military, the most prevalent use of serious games in corporate environments is for training. These cover teamwork, leadership, time and project management, communication skills, strategic planning, customer service, sales, on-boarding and, of course, job- specific skill development (Greco, Baldissin & Nonino, 2013; Lopes, Fialho, Cunha & Niveiros, 2013; Michael & Chen, 2006). In addition to training, serious games have been used to attract and retain customers, launch new products, enhance job performance and attract potential job candidates (Donovan, 2012). One promising new area for serious games in the corporate arena involves the use of serious games for personnel selection. This is discussed in the next section.

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