Why So Serious?

Time for a quick glance over the fence to that rather more sober other world of gaming, where the only way you’re going to get to shoot an alien in the face is if there’s an actual alien invasion and someone makes a training simulator for the Earth defence force.

The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge has announced its 2008 winners. I have no idea if the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge is a big fish amongst serious games or not, but its fairly big-name sponsors suggests it’s not some dog and pony show. While it’s a long, po-faced way away from the cheery craziness of, say, IGF, it’s a fascinating glimpse into how games are ever-growing as a vital part of modern life beyond the simple hedonism and socialising we jackasses use ’em for.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, games geared towards the emergency services and the military have the strongest presence on the winner’s podium. Top prize went to Burn Center, “a fast-paced, medically-accurate simulation of mass-scale casualty burn treatment.” Which in any other circumstance I would presume involves an awful lot of screaming and a sort of hideous bacon smell, but this is more stuff like “extensive resuscitation mode that follows patients over the course of 36 hours of treatment on an intensive care unit following a disaster event.” I’m glad I’m not a doctor, but I’m also glad that folk are working on these sorts of sims, so that training doesn’t have to rely on someone happening to get horribly burnt.

Also grabbing gongs are an FPS aimed at the Canadian Army, and something called GeoCommander whose description is too terrifying for me to even being to precis here. The most conceptually interesting, and winner of the Best Student Game prize, is Age of Ecology. Cutely, it’s “inspired by the environmentally non-sustainable aspects of the “Age of Empires” series.” No chopping of magical infinite wood or harvesting of magical regenerating spice here, though: “On a randomly generated coastal landscape, players buy land, zone land use (natural, agricultural, cities, levees, fisheries), and invest in the productive capacities of the land uses, and mitigate natural hazards (floods and earthquakes). Industries need population, infrastructure, and operating budgets, and generate pollution and revenues. Farm crops consume water and nutrients. Fisheries provide a source of income depending on the ecological health of the water, fishing net type, and the number of boats. Natural regions regenerate the environment.” Blimey. Sim City is for noobs, clearly.

The finalists sound a little sparkier – there’s fireman-trainer Flame-Sim, the suprisingly sci-fi edutainment title Rome In Danger (featuring Time Knights, apparently), and one about an astronaut making an emergency landing on a lost planet and brewing up some biodiesel so he can get home. These don’t sound all that serious after all, eh?


  1. gbarules2999 says:

    I can finally quench my burning desire to be a doctor that treats burns. Sweet.

  2. BorderlandsGuide says:

    When will they make a serious game that realistically simulates the thrilling life of accountants?

    Can you imagine how awesome deferred tax paperwork would look on a PS3 and flatscreen?

  3. Wisq says:

    The “Age of Ecology” game reminds me of LinCity-NG (and possibly the original LinCity), in which your options for “winning” were either sustainability, or mass exodus via rockets.

    The “sustainability” goal required that many key stats not fluctuate more than a certain amount over several years, without importing/exporting goods, since that implies dependence on the outside world. It’s surprisingly hard to achieve.

    Some of the other items on the list (particularly the last one) seem more like adult-oriented “edutainment” rather than real simulations, but I guess that fits their definition of “serious” games.

    I especially liked the description of the Apache game. I figured it was just a realistic helicopter sim from the name, but got a good chuckle when I realised it was even one level deeper on the esoteric scale — a helicopter maintenance sim. Now that’s obscure.

  4. Alex says:

    >>An FPS aimed at the Canadian Army
    Wasn’t this a conversion of SWAT4? I think I may have played it. Very dry.

  5. Psychopomp says:

    What? No game where you slave away over the years at a pointless desk job, where you eventually catch your wife with another man and you go through a complete emotion breakdown, all culminating in a terrible murder-suicide?

  6. Xercies says:

    No one has ever made a real life sim, where you go from being a baby, go into school, go into college, go into university and then go into work and then retire and die. With all the stuff in between like passing tests, and doing whatever job your doing.

  7. Wisq says:

    I keep looking at that picture of the burn victim, and I can’t seem to figure it out. What’s the blue and white stuff on the neck area? What’s with the head? It looks like a brown version of something from “Mars Attacks”.

    I guess this is why I don’t treat burn victims …

  8. cliffski says:

    Best government game my ass. I’d never even heard of these awards or I’d bloody well have submitted Democracy 2.

  9. Bhazor says:

    Reply to Wisq

    My guess is that it’s a toasted baby with a neck brace.

  10. Confidence Interval says:

    @Xercies: You’re playing it now.

  11. Heliocentric says:


    I want a battlefield 2 scale disaster reaction game. With other players or maybe ai if not. A fire starts, you can either rush to put it out or evacuate people.

    Man on a mountain has a stroke. Either get him in a heli evac or send a jeep and have to paramedics scramble the last bit. But this is all in a free wide open world. And you will be rated on lives you save, damage you avert and how cheaply you solve the problems. Sometimes the a woman on a boat will have a baby while an earthquake causes and tsunami which while threatening the boat will detestate the coast. You can’t save them all.

  12. Skurmedel says:

    That Age of Ecology-stuff actually sounded fun, but maybe I’m slightly weird.

  13. El Stevo says:


    It looks like a neck brace to me. And his face has been burnt off. (Although his hands are miraculously unharmed.)

  14. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    a training simulator for the Earth defence force

    This game exists. Although given that it teaches that small squads armed with nothing but AR-15 assault rifles and a few rocket launchers are sufficient to bring down hordes of 100-foot tall laser spewing steel monstrosities, its training value is questionable.

  15. yhancik says:

    A paperwork videogame, you say ?

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    edit: mh… it doesn’t seem to work… just copy-paste, then…

  16. Pod says:

    The “Emergency” and “Fire Cheif” series of games were great. Sure, they were both buggy as hell, but saving lives has never been so much fun.

  17. Alec Meer says:

    Mr Puffins – the reference was entirely deliberate.

  18. AndrewC says:

    Geocommander sounds horrible. Where’s the torture simulator?

  19. HidesHisEyes says:

    CF:DA is a Swat4 mod, yeah, although I can’t play it because apparently I’d need the gold edition?

    I’d say Project Reality was pretty serious if mods count.

  20. Jonas says:

    What the hell is Geo Location? Is this basically a game about finding the terrorists?

  21. Freudian Slip says:

    EDF… mmmmmmmmm. Sorry about that, any mention of EDF and I start to drool like a freak.

  22. Heliocentric says:

    Project Reality taught me to be a more efficent insurgent…

    Taught me that to defeat a stronger force to rely on ambushes and confusion, roadside bombs, civillian human shields and that a 50cal mg can easily waste a transport helicopter.

    Thats a bad thing isnt it.

  23. Gap Gen says:

    ArmA is scarily serious in that way, too. Reading Dyslexci’s (sp?) website reveals quite how serious the simulation is.

  24. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ Alec: Good good, just testing. ¬_¬

  25. Satsuz says:

    That Age of Ecology sounded pretty interesting actually. The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge site didn’t have a link for it, oddly. So I used some quick google-fu and tracked it down. Playable in the browser, gonna try it now.

    Play it here.

  26. Wisq says:

    @Gap Gen: Most of the various simulation games are like that, yeah.

    I’ve done ground-combat sims, air combat sims, sub combat sims, and even train sims. In each case, I’m amazed by both the level of realism, and by the serious communities that have sprung up around them.

    OpFlash and ArmA are a special case, since the company that makes them (Bohemia Interactive) actually makes a “Virtual Battlespace” (VBS) simulator that they sell to militaries for training purposes. It’s used by many armed forces and academies around the world.

    In a sense, the “civilian” side of their operation (games for us to play) acts as a testing ground and extra funding to help them improve their military simulations. That was a little more apparent in ArmA, which was fairly buggy on release. Still, most people have the sense not to complain — Bohemia Interactive is still doing us something of a favour by having a “game” version at all, beta-quality or otherwise.

  27. Jay says:

    “I would presume involves an awful lot of screaming and a sort of hideous bacon smell”

    I work in a burns ITU. It’s usually more like burnt hair and petrol. Can’t wait to try out that resus sim, anything that could potentially get me out of being made up as a burns victim for junior doctors to asses next month has got to be worth a look.