Serious Topics in Children's Digital Games
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Games are an important form of play. While games are played by all age groups, for children, play and games are fundamental to learning and, for them, all play is serious. Serious games, which have become a prevalent game genre for adults, need not be confined to adult or adolescent audiences. Both from the perspective of serious topics and serious gameplay, older children as they head towards adolescence, and younger children as they negotiate their way through their first years of school, warrant the consideration of games developed to tackle topics that are becoming increasingly important to their health and well-being. In games, social value can only be created through a narrative a child can relate to. Whether we turn to David Winnicott on child development, Jerome Bruner on acts of meaning, or Kieran Egan on languaged learning, story dominates as the most valuable experience in the construction of a child's world and how they act within it. The added context of a personal approach, one that is culturally relevant, can create an influential avenue through which children can be provided with opportunities for gaining knowledge about problems that, while they may be national or global, are local to them – knowledge that could be critical to their well-being and survival in an increasingly hostile world. Games offer children a space that supports learning on their own. Moving from the typical to the atypical game, from simple problem solving that increases cognitive skills, to social problem solving that teaches empathy, is a shift that can happen through participation in narrative dialogue. Social value in a game can exist when the cognitive load is not in computing numbers but in the challenge of uncovering the more intriguing stories beyond the surface of coded messages. In this talk I present a case study that describes the design thinking process of a group of EU Erasmus students, each of whom brings their own cultural perspective and personal story to addressing how they would introduce children to contemporary issues, which either affect them currently, or will affect them as they grow up, through narrative in physically engaging games. A number of their final game designs are provided in outline.