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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?

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.