6 Serious Games formulas to engage players with serious content – Part 2

Did you miss the first part of this article? Read now ‘6 Serious Games formulas to engage players with serious content – Part 1′.


But if there is a particularly bright formula in the serious games world, that is the Hybridization, another twist in the exercise of playful metaphors. If in the Extrapolation games, the serious content is easily identifiable, hybridization presents a metaphor so perfect that players don’t realize they are doing anything else besides playing.


Dragon Box – Learning about equations having fun

A masterly example of hybridization is found in Dragon Box. The video game, created for children by a math teacher to help them with equations, presents two opposing left and right panels, each of which found several monsters and a box, which supposedly contains a dragon. Kids are given a clear goal: isolate the box removing the monsters you don’t need. And are also presented with a set of rules that increase step by step. After some minutes playing, monsters start being replaced by numbers. Not a problem anymore, the kid has already grasped the mechanics and numbers cease to be scary. Without realizing it, the child has learned to solve equations of first and second degree, just by playing.

Other excellent examples are found in CodeCombat, a game in which the player plays a sorcerer who commands troops in a battle full of magic. Inadvertently, with each given spell that put troops into action, the player is learning JavaScript programming basics. Another example is Perfect World, where the player incarnates a water molecule in its way to the ocean, facing constant ups and downs along the way. Also here, almost without realizing it, the player is learning about the water cycle.


Another formula in Knowledge Transfer using empathy to put players in the skin of people, situations or certain contexts. The primary objective of this type of game is usually to sensitize the player about relevant problems and distressing realities.


Forget Me-Knot – Alzheimer’s nightmare

A striking example of this formula is ‘Forget Me-Knot’, a game that reproduces the survival horror aesthetics to put the player in the shoes of an Alzheimer’s patient. Move around a house with a dim light and a haunting music, full of unrecognizable objects and things you do not remember. The goal is to reconstruct those lost memories opening drawers or finding clues, fighting at the same time the anguish of not knowing what is going on.

Master of this formula is the Colombian developer Vander Caballero, responsible for almost poetic video games that create awareness around  certain problems. He revolutionized this formula with the game ‘Papo y yo‘, Spanish for Papo and I, a game in which a kid has to flee from a monster. The game transmits with great beauty Caballero’s own problems as the son of an alcoholic father.

There are other interesting titles like ‘Outcasted‘, where the player plays a beggar who asks for money in the streets. The player can do nothing more that begging and turning the face to see the reactions of passersby. A brutal blow of powerlessness and reality to create awareness about this everyday unnoticed reality.


Among other serious games approaches, ‘Outsourcing’ is one of the most interesting. The idea is to use video games techniques to make players work for free!


MalariaSpot – A game that saves lives

A recent and particularly striking case is that of MalariaSpot. Players need to locate real malaria parasites in real blood samples taken from people in high-risk areas. Instead of shooting Martians, players try to find parasites in blood samples digitized. The result is a major support for humanitarian work because twenty people playing are equivalent to an expert microscopist. MalariaSpot creators take sample images in the field, upload them into the Internet distributing them to players all around the world. When a certain number of people has checked on the same sample, the resulting information is transformed into a unique collaborative diagnosis, which is returned to the source laboratory.

There are other similar experiences in video games as EyeWire, designed by scientists from MIT, where players help to map the brain deciphering the information of each human brain cell.

(This article was originally posted in Spanish at OmniumLab.com, written by Alejandro Domínguez. Translated by Belén Gómez. You can read the full Spanish version here)

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About Belén Gómez

Graduate in Communications, Movie Direction and finishing a degree in English Language and Literature, her multidisciplinary career includes TV and movie direction, script-writing, video games localization, game design, international project management and multi-platform video game production. Curious about everything, she divides her time between onseriousgames.com, Serious Games projects, any Assassin’s Creed title and her Mandarin Chinese lessons.

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