GETTING 'SERIOUS': USC students played around with augmented and virtual reality features for the fully immersive experience.
GETTING 'SERIOUS': USC students played around with augmented and virtual reality features for the fully immersive experience. Contributed

USC programmers step up their game

MOST people would commonly associate video games with mindlessness and disengagement from reality.

But what if you could learn about something entirely new, say, a social issue in sub-Saharan Africa or the mysteries of the surrounding universe by gaming?

These are just some issues University of the Sunshine Coast students are tackling through studies of serious games, a growing field both in the university and around the world.

Last Friday, third-year student Amber Bouwman and her team of two others pitched their game concept, an educational space-themed game targeted at grade five schoolkids, to members of the public with great success.

She said after their presentation, one primary school teacher exclaimed how useful the game would be when trying to teach 10-year-olds about the complexities of the universe.

"Kids love games, so if you can get them to learn something as well, that's even better,” Ms Bouwman said.

Another team created and pitched a PC game called Natural Instincts, which explores rhinoceros poaching in southern Africa.

One of the programmers Nathaniel Leach said fleshing out such an intense and delicate issue via the video game format was trickier than expected.

"Originally, we were just going to make the game to highlight the animal poaching itself, but then we realised there were financial reasons people went into poaching,” he said.

"We wanted to point out that you should do more than just hate the poachers, that there are ways to stop it outside of directly attacking the poachers.”

Creating serious games had never even been a consideration for Mathew Ponting, but he ended up addressing teenage depression in his game Shadowy Thoughts, which he developed all by himself.

Associate lecturer in serious games at USC Colleen Stieler-Hunt said part of the reason for the field's growth is the popularity of video games amongst millennials.

"The idea is that, yes, games are fun and a big part of entertainment, but they're the medium of our generation,” she said.

"But there's also opportunity to point out a cause or teach people something or try to make the world a better place.

"That's what serious games are about.”

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