Serious Games Getting More Serious at CITRIS

From TekUnborn blog:

[Please note: Corrections have been made to the content of the source material in this repost.]

According to market research firm DFC Intelligence the video game industry is currently worth an estimated 66 billion US dollars worldwide and is expected to grow by another $15 billion within the next four to five years across all platforms (source here). To put the shift in our attentions into contrast, IBM released a study in 2006 which very bluntly stated in its title “The End of Television as We Know It”. In the report (a full copy of which can be downloaded here) it states that the traditional audience is tuning out and turning to video on demand options, thereby killing the advertising revenues of the business. The point here is that the new public wants control. They want to be involved in the media or at the very least be given the choice to start, stop, or pause where they want.

Likewise, numerous educational videos, which used to be the status quo for topical learning such as birthing instructions, have seen considerable decreases in sales numbers. At the same time, Serious Games, the industry term for video games which are developed for more than entertainment have seen a massive growth, both in research and development, and usage.

Although Serious Games focus strongly on entertainment, the difference between a Serious Game and the video games we’re generally familiar with is that the entertainment factor is only a tool to serve the true purpose of the game, most commonly education and occasionally evaluation. In tandem with all of the previous video game and television growth or decrease statistics, the Serious Game business has boomed in recent years.

One very notable center for the research and development of Serious Games which has been popping up again and again is the 4-UC campus (UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz) Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

One of CITRIS’ earlier attempts brought Serious Game’s to the Android market via their game PokerWalk, wherein players would use the app to traverse their city in search of their poker hand, and in order to compete in an interconnected location based multiplayer game. The goal was to connect residents of a city with their neighbours while educating them about their city and employing physical fitness. (PokerWalk for Android is still available and can be downloaded for free here)

This summer CITRIS hit the news again in August when graduate student Alexandra Holloway, in collaboration with her colleagues in Professor Sri Kurniawan’s Assistive Technology Lab at UC Santa Cruz, began work on several games that help expectant mothers better prepare for childbirth and infant care. (The first game of this series “The Prepared Partner” is available here)

The CITRIS project which inspired me to take up this article is still in its development phase. The project is known simply as “Gaming for Fragile X Syndrome”. Fragile X Syndrome is genetic in nature. Although most commonly known as the cause of autism, Fragile X Syndrome is the most common form of inherited mental impairment; the symptoms begin with learning disabilities and range as far as severe mental retardation. The Serious Game being developed at CITRIS focuses on providing entertaining content which through game play will be able to diagnose Fragile X Syndrome and provide therapeutic benefits as well. Once completed CITRIS is hoping to make the software available through a variety of mobile operating systems as well as through online content.

These days, which may or may not be the final era of television and “the end of television as we know it”, we’ve seen a surge in reality television, not of the Survivor kind (although that’s out there too), but of the Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, and A&E Biographies. Even the non-reality television has progressed into smarter better researched content with shows such as Dexter or House MD. The industry has started to recognize that educational content delivered in an entertaining manner can sell better than simply entertaining the audience. It’s my hope that as video games take to the forefront of the entertainment industry, we’ll begin to see that same merging between educational and entertaining.