Workshop on Entertainment in Serious Games and Entertaining Serious Purpose

Featured as part of a workshop on entertainment in serious games

The serious games community rightly argues that there’s more to serious games than entertainment, and restricting the focus to entertainment “seriously undersells its potential” (Jenkins 2006). Indeed, while a consensus definition of serious games still eludes us, serious games are often described as games designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.

However, entertainment obviously has an important role to play, for example in contributing to the motivational and engaging qualities of serious games and making learning or serious elements more palatable. Why would anyone want to voluntarily play a serious game again and again for extended periods of time if it’s not entertaining? Furthermore, discussion around what is, and what is not, primary or secondary importance is not always helpful and can be problematic – because arguing that serious purpose is primary rejects many games and interactions whose entertaining element is the purpose – where purpose and entertainment are inextricably and synergistically linked. So arguments or distinctions along the lines of what’s more important, the serious purpose or entertainment, become blurred.

In addition, gameplay and interactions exhibiting this synergistic nature typically identify good design. Where entertainment and serious purpose meet, where purpose doesn’t overshadow entertainment (and vice versa) and ideally where players want to play voluntarily for hours on end, again and again, and in their own time.

Similar arguments are used with learning and development where learning with games is fun (e.g. Gee 2007). Other more obvious examples can be found in exergames and dance games where the mechanic of working out is entertaining and entertainment is a workout; or with interactive art and installations that provide a message or an experience that is entertaining. Similarly, other examples might include well-designed role-playing, interactive storytelling and performance where taking part in historical events, encounters with different social and cultural structures, or facing moral and ethical dilemmas and situations can be entertaining.

In this respect, entertainment and associated experiences can mean different things to different people and can involve elements or mixes of gameplay and interaction that is fun and exciting, through stimulating and thought provoking, to difficult, scary, or darker experiences that are pleasurable (Marsh and Costello 2012).

As more and more interactive entertainments (games, diversions and brain teasers) appear on social media and networking sites, it’s not difficult to foresee these offerings increasingly extending to serious purposes (learning, training and well-being); and in doing so perhaps signal an increased confidence in overcoming the failure surrounding the introduction of Edutainment in the 90’s.

In this workshop we want to highlight the importance of entertainment (in its various forms) in serious games irrespective of supporting technologies/platforms. The objective of this workshop is to provide a forum for researchers and practitioners to identify, discuss and share topics associated with entertainment in serious games and the synergy of serious purpose and entertainment in interactions and gameplay – where entertainment is the serious purpose and also where the synergy of purpose and entertainment identifies good design.



Henry Jenkins. 2006. Getting Serious About Games.

John Paul Gee. 2007. Good Video Games Plus Good Learning, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York.

Tim Marsh & Brigid Costello. 2012. Experience in serious games: between positive and serious experience, Serious Games Development & Applications, SGDA2012, Bremen, Germany.

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