Entertaining The Similarities And Distinctions Between Serious Games and Virtual Heritage Projects

update:
The article is available online (i.e. Is published)
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1875952115000324

 
I will have another journal article out in a special issue of Entertainment Computing, entitled “Entertainment in Serious Games and Entertaining Serious Purposes”. I assume it will be out early next year. The special issue is edited by Tim Marsh, Helmut Hlavacs and myself, but I still had to answer to some formidable questions from reviewers to get this one published!

Title: Entertaining The Similarities And Distinctions Between Serious Games and Virtual Heritage Projects

Abstract: This article summarizes past definitions of entertainment, serious games and virtual heritage in order to discuss whether virtual heritage has particular problems not directly addressed by conventional serious games. For virtual heritage, typical game-style entertainment poses particular ethical problems, especially around the simulation of historic violence and the possible trivialization of culturally sensitive and significant material. While virtual heritage can be considered to share some features of serious games, there are significantly different emphases on objectives. Despite these distinctions, virtual heritage projects could still meet serious games-style objectives while entertaining participants.

The overall aim of this article is to determine whether entertainment helps or constrains the primary purposes of virtual heritage projects. My contribution here is to provide reasons for my suggestion that the aims of virtual heritage aims are not primarily the same as those of serious games, and that the aims of the former are even less related to commercial games. The first step of this venture is to re-examine the definition and scope of serious games, then compare the aims of serious games with the main aim of virtual heritage. I conclude with a discussion of whether this aim is at odds to or congruent with the aims of gaming per se.

Conclusion

I initially raised the question of whether entertainment helps or constrains the primary purposes of virtual heritage projects. Given the increasing number of literature on serious games and heritage and given the arguments by former proponents in virtual learning environments (Stone, 2005, 2009) that serious games is the future I think it is reasonable to answer in the affirmative.

I have however argued that the aims of virtual heritage are not primarily the same as those of most serious games, and that the aims of the former are even less related to commercial games. I have debated the finer details of various writers on definitions of serious games, although I have focused on a paper from Marsh (2011) as it provided both a clear definition and a good summary of some the major definitional issues in the field. This led me to suggesting a simpler definition of serious games, and to warn that a comprehensive and useful classification system still appears to be a future prospect. Much more immediately practical would be to develop a theory of serious games in relation to specific content, in order to ensure that game design principles are appropriate and best leverage the objectives of the subject domain. So in this instance I investigated the relatively narrow yet still problematic research area of virtual heritage.

I suggested another way of considering serious games and I have applied this new interpretation to virtual heritage, with particular emphasis on aims as stated by UNESCO. I have redefined the oft-quoted notion of virtual heritage, but both my and Stone’s definitions are predicated around the notion that virtual heritage does not merely display heritage objects and sites, but also attempts to convey why preservation of those objects and sites were valuable to the original inhabitants and why they have value to us today.

After briefly reviewing eight major themes and issues (genre baggage, violence, explorative learning, authenticity, privacy, novel entertainment, the evaluation of meaningful learning, and deploying digital heritage assets as part of an open-ended and flexible system), I am drawn to the conclusion that virtual heritage does not aim for the same outcomes as serious games per se, and although all of these issues may also be issues for other types of serious games, these eight issues are of direct importance to virtual heritage. So virtual heritage games may still be serious games (and indeed culture itself includes both entertainment in general and games in particular) but virtual heritage game projects have particular requirements that are not shared with typical serious games.

Secondly, I have argued that although entertainment media poses risks for the primary aim of virtual heritage, it is possible for virtual heritage to be entertaining and still fullfil this primary aim of communicating cultural significance. For virtual heritage games must be both educational and entertaining if they are to captivate, inform, instruct or inspire their intended audience, but they do not need to be obviously entertaining and educational at the same time.

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