“You might be a serious games researcher if….”

I thought I’d post something fun about how to figure out if you are a serious games researcher.

Here goes…

You might be a serious games researcher if…

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So you mean something else when you say your serious game has been “validated”? Confusion Part 2

In my previous post on validating serious games (“What do you mean when you say your serious game has been validated? Experimental vs. Test Validity“) I tried to clear up some confusion around what it means when someone says their game has been “validated.” I called for people to specify whether or not their game had undergone a validation process as an intervention or as an assessment measure. Seems that there is even more confusion out there to clear up.

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What do you mean when you say your serious game has been validated? Experimental vs. Test Validity

At many serious games conferences I attend, people talk about the pressing need for more serious games to be validated. People talk about the handful of examples of serious games that have been validated. I assume this means that scientific trials were conducted that validated the use of these serious game to impact outcomes.

But when I listen more closely, sometimes I  hear people say that they have “validated” their serious game at various steps of the development process. Humph. How do you validate an incomplete game for effectiveness? Then it turns out they never conducted a trial to evaluate the efficacy of their game to impact outcomes.  But they still say they “validated” their game. How can that be?

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Do Brain Training Games Work? Yes, No and Maybe.

I was recently asked on Twitter if I thought brain training games like Lumosity were “any good.” My short Twitter response was that the answer is YES, NO, and MAYBE.  Here is  a more detailed explanation from my perspective as a psychologist, researcher and maker of serious games.

Picture 49

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“For an effective game, do your homework and address a big problem”

So you want to change the world? And you want to make a serious game to make that change? Well, even if luck and chance play a role in your game’s ultimate effectiveness, you can definitely take steps to put yourself in the best possible position to make a big change that can be measured. You can do this from the get-go by doing your homework.

Homework Star

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Putting Serious Games for Health in the Chronic Care Model

Our healthcare system of today is based on a system that is very good at treating acute illnesses. If something is broken or diseased, a patient is admitted to the hospital and receives care by a team of professionals until they are well enough to go home.

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“How do you measure self-efficacy? The answer may surprise you”

As a follow-up to my post on measuring the impact of serious games (see “8 Tips For Measuring the Impact of Serious Games”), let me give you a little quiz. It’s not as easy as it may seem.

senior citLet’s say you made a serious game to increase the engagement of seniors in regular physical activity at a gym. One of the “research goals” of your game was to increase player’s self-efficacy to Continue reading

“8 Tips for Measuring the Impact of Serious Games”

Serious games are great! When you play them, the good ones (!!), you get the feeling that they are a breakthrough in learning. They “feel” like they are doing much more than traditional teaching and training approaches have done in the past. You think, “Everyone should be learning through games and they will replace textbooks in the classroom and brochures in the doctor’s office!”

But that is not enough. Continue reading

“Re-Mission: That story has legs!”

When Pam Omidyar and I first met back in 1999 and started HopeLab officially in 2001, I don’t think we ever imagined that her idea of a game for kids with cancer would turn into the success that we have seen with Re-Mission. We actually completed the game in 2005. We did research on it with 34 hospitals in the United States, Canada and Australia the following year. We released Re-Mission at the end of 2006 when we announced the finding we got at a conference. To date, over 200,000 copies of the game have been distributed in 81 countries across the world. 

I keep in touch with Richard Tate who is the Director of Communications at HopeLab, the non-profit company I co-founded with Pam Omidyar back in 2001. When I expressed my amazement not just at Re-Mission’s continued popularity as a serious game but the media’s continued fascination with it, he said, “Yes. That story has legs!”  In journalism when a story has legs, it lasts for a long time. The story about Re-Mission sure does have legs!

I recently did a video interview with Ben Rooney of the Wall Street Journal. In this you can hear why I think Re-Mission has been so successful for so long. (Click here to link to the story and video.)

In summary, I think it is a combination of three factors.

#1 The high production factors of the game which means not just the artistic value but the design approach that combined serious learning and behavior goals with fun gameplay. It is by now an old PC game and the controls aren’t perfect but you do feel immersed inside the human body and engaged in the story of Roxxi the nanobot fighting cancer in young patients, which brings me to the second point…

#2 The concept is brilliant. Too many people mistakenly think I came up with the concept but I didn’t. It was Pam Omidyar’s dream to make a game for kids with cancer where you go inside the body and engage in the fight against cancer by shooting cancer cells. Pam O.’s goal was to engage kids in an epic battle against cancer in the game. Epic games are what Jane McGonigal says engage people on a large scale and help them feel part of something bigger than themselves. It’s almost a spiritual experience. I think Re-Mission does that. 

#3 As I say in the video, Re-Mission is still popular and people are talking about it because we did research on it. This made the game much more than an amusing and entertaining distraction for kids with cancer. The research findings confirmed that this game was actually a powerful tool in the fight against cancer. The game “worked.” Kids who played the game took more of their antibiotics and oral chemotherapy as prescribed by their doctors than kids who just played a control game. I don’t think anyone would be talking to us today if we didn’t have these research findings. It wasn’t just a fun game where you shoot cancer cells. It was something that led you to do things in the real world like take your medication more regularly so that you could actually beat YOUR cancer, not just the cancer of a character in a game. 

Overall, I think we need to make really great serious games that combine our serious goals with fun and we need to make sure we do good research on them.

It’s not easy but it can be done. And we can change the world with serious games. That is OUR epic battle! 


“Relying on experts in making serious games: It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take…”

I believe that great serious games embody a balance between the various disciplines that should be collaborating to bring out the best each has to offer. When I give talks about interdisciplinary collaboration in making serious games, I often say that when you Continue reading

“Working with researchers who are legendary game designers in their own mind”

A good serious game is inherently interdisciplinary. It requires multimedia artists, engineers, business people, content experts, behavioral scientists, designers, project managers, quality assurance experts, producers, administrators and members of the target audience to work together seamlessly to produce a product that combines engaging gameplay with learning goals. One of the biggest challenges facing the serious game team is overcoming Continue reading

“10 Tips for Finding a Developer to Make Your First Serious Game”

1. Work out your serious game idea and learning goals as much as possible before you approach a development team.

If not, the developers will make the game that they are capable of making which may or Continue reading

Putting self-efficacy theory into serious games

People often ask me how one can incorporate a learning or behavioral theories into games. It is not easy to do but there is one theory that has been incorporated into serious Continue reading

“Warning: Negative Target Fixation Is Dangerous to Your Innovative Serious Game Project”

I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley before I moved to the Netherlands. In fact, I studied and worked there for 17 years. And while my work-life balance is much better here in Europe, I am grateful to have had the
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Only 1 in 10 play the whole video game: Implications for serious game development

In the video game industry, an important measure of a game’s success is its sales. Of course the extent to which players of the game are engaged in it and give it positive reviews supports the sales of the game and its popularity. But if a million people buy a Continue reading

Games and aggression: Is it a bad thing?

I am often asked what I think about video games and aggression. It is a funny question because how can I say that games can’t make you aggressive if I also think games can affect what you do and think? I’d like to take this opportunity to resolve this seeming Continue reading

What Grand Theft Auto taught me about the importance of graphics in serious games

When I was growing up on Lookout Mountain in the great state of Tennessee, there was a tourist shop close to my house that sold items that were supposed to reflect the rural culture of the area. I particularly remember a ceramic trivet you could hang on your wall Continue reading

10 Tips for Making a Successful Serious Game

1) Plan from the beginning to do research on your game. It makes everyone stay honest. Start with research on the target group and what they want.

2) Pick a game development team that is passionate about your project and has made Continue reading

Applying Evidence-Based Management in Making Serious Games for Health

If our goal is to make serious games for health that “work” as demonstrated by empirical studies, we should be living this value throughout the serious game development process. This is not only good for the alignment of values and practices, but it also makes good Continue reading

What SoulCalibur taught me about making serious games: Lesson 2

SoulCalibur again? Oh yes, the game is just too good for just one post. You can read Lesson 1 in this series to see how I was introduced to the game SoulCalibur and the first lesson it taught me. Now here’s the second lesson it taught me:

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