Applied game design is about creating a game to accomplish a predetermined purpose outside its game-play. The ‘predetermined purpose’ has also been called 'serious', and thus making it easy to confuse it with meaning 'not fun', ‘applied’ simply indicates that the game is used as a vehicle. As a vehicle, the game is designed to transfer thoughts, information, ideas, beliefs, insights, explanations, experiences, competencies (both mental and physical) and change behavior. In this post I want to create an awareness of an applied game’s direction of transfer, which I believe is helpful for creating a high-level understanding an applied game's potential and piece to a taxonomy for applied games.
In the above image I argue that applied games can: transfer-out, transfer-in, transfer-facilitate and transfer-through. First, the conventional view of the applied game is concerned with transfer that flows in the direction of the player. For example, here are two games that focus on transfer-out, both of which I was directly involved in designing. Carkit is a game that is meant to help teach high school students Newtonian physics, while the Burgemeestergame is meant to help train Dutch mayor’s in crisis management.
Next, transfer-in is a form of applied game where transfer comes from the players. This form of applied game is beginning to gain more popularity, and has been the topic of several meetings where I consulted. As examples, I will use two fairly well known applied games. Foldit is a game meant to generate the evidence needed to prove that human protein folders can be more effective than computers at certain aspects of protein structure prediction. While playing the ESP game of labeling images, you are training computers to solve problems for humans.
Transfer-facilitate would be an applied game that transfers back and forth between player and game commissioner. Unfortunately, I have no examples of this type of applied game. I do think it should be a fairly obvious possibility, and if anyone reading this has one, then by all means please leave a reply to this post.
The last type of transfer is transfer-through, which is transfer that designers receive and transmit during the game design process. Transfer is not necessarily a result of playing, but of designing a game which may or may not actually result in a finalized version of a game since the predetermined purpose is achieved during its design. The designers in this process need not be professional game designers but can be ad-hoc game designers (e.g. specialists, co-workers, content experts, clients, target audience, etc.). Examples of this form of transfer can be found in the writings of pioneering serious game thinkers such as Clark Abt and Richard Duke.