On-screen "serious games" would be well advised to take inspiration from some social game processes, in order to widen their target audience and their influence.
L'Atelier: In terms of external communication, won’t the impact of serious games suffer from the widening appeal of social games?
Nordine Ghachi: I don’t think that serious games are under threat, quite the opposite. Their time will have really come when serious game creators start according at least the same level of importance to the video gaming potential as to the "serious" message that the game is trying to get across. Let’s imagine a serious game that is so well designed, such a fun game and so addictive that it creates the sort of buzz that Uncharted 3 (Playstation) for instance is doing at the moment. Obviously the serious game designers have got their work cut out for them if they’re going to achieve this, but when they start moving in that direction I’m sure we’ll soon see things that the general public will find pretty amazing.
L'Atelier: Is the reverse also true? Can social game values – the community aspect, viral communication, sharing, competition, etc - benefit serious games?
Nordine Ghachi: That depends. In some cases Facebook would not be a suitable tool, as the “return on investment” so to speak has already been fixed. If you actually know the people you’re trying to reach, it would be better to opt for an internal module. You would more or less take an e-learning approach, but still put plenty of emphasis on the gaming aspect of the material. You can do this well in advance, by studying your target audience on the ground before starting work on designing the game.
But if we’re talking about a serious game whose purpose is to unite as many people as possible around some key issues, then this is when the social game really comes into its own! This is what we set out to do, for example, with Chem-Next, a game whose aim is to make the general public more aware of sustainable chemistry and to give the chemicals sector a more modern image. By adopting best practice in terms of the viral mechanisms of the games currently most frequently played on Facebook, we hope to be able to reach a really wide audience.
L'Atelier: Basically, if a good “serious game” is to reach more people then it mustn’t neglect the collaborative and gaming aspects.
Nordine Ghachi: That’s right. Entertainment means fun and if you have fun doing something, you’ll do it often. Or at least, as long it continues to amuse you. Let’s take, for example, an example from Volkswagen’s Fun Theory game. They’ve transformed a bottle bank into a sort of arcade game. Above each bottle slot sits a small light. Two numbers are displayed on a screen, the best score and the current score. The player starts the game, and he has to put the bottles into the correct hole. If he’s quick enough, he’ll score points, and he can try to beat the best score. Now just imagine having bottle banks all over in the world linked to the Internet, coupled with a system of QR (Quick Response) codes which allows you to connect via your mobile to an application that’s linked to Facebook. So you can record your score and share it with your friends. Don’t you think that a great deal more glass would get recycled? We can change quite a lot of things by turning good behaviour into real fun.