When one starts to describe how a game experience seemingly breaks the norm, transcends the expected, and leaves the user with a discovery on a human level we're reaching a pretty serious notion. As a kid growing up with technology advancing at an alarming rate I found solace in understanding the intricacies of games as more than an entertainment medium and championing an awareness of "what it is really like". I was surrounded by family that were too old or too young to really get it like I did, I thought. If you visited my family during the holidays you'd find me in my room engaging in the latest game title, but far from distracted or secluded from the social engagement. I yearned for people to see it like I did. "Watch me.", I'd say, pulling at their wrists or glaring from the other end of the hallway. Sit, relax, lets hang out and just talk about what I do. So often I was experiencing these things alone, sitting on my room's carpeted floor, collapsing from laughter, frustration or bliss.
Other people just didn't seem to get it. Of course, I was wrong. My disillusioned teenage self that was convinced girl gamers didn't exist was a downright fool. He believed that he was special in some way to be able to see these details and embrace these high level concepts. Metaphors, it seemed, were in the Mechanics. The positive energy and outright blissful nature of the Magic Circle, achieving maximum Flow in a game, were tools that only I could command. As I grow older I was exposed to more than just the culture, vocabulary, concepts and idea generation of the games I grew up with. I became exposed to the personal experiences of others. I didn't mourn about the death of the idea that I was special in some way. In fact, I reveled in it, embracing the notion that games can change a person on a fundamental level through a moment of play, a splash of narrative, or even a shared experience that had once been so solitary.
Games just seemed so much more necessary after that epiphany.
The Serious Games movement speaks to this notion as well, I think, but on a level that serves a greater good. Games about real-world events, situations and circumstances leave players educated in a traditional way. Beyond the typical level design ephemera of discovery, learning and application, we find ourselves reflecting on things through these Serious experiences and shed our current form. Yet, and I think this may come up later on, I would argue that the strength of what Serious Games are about doesn't rest in entire game systems, but individual mechanics, moments or details that can manifest in a number of ways. Through visuals, auditory stimulus or experiential design we can throw players for a loop as designers and call into question their very intent to play.
If I incorporate something within a game, like my Metroidvania, that seeks to break the norms of gender bias and call the player's expectations into question (not the player character but the actual user) is that not sharing the same goals as a Serious Game? Through some of my graduate studies I questioned how to provide nomenclature for the vast, ambiguous nature of so many things game design-related. I believe this is another opportunity to explore that topic as it applies to a designer's intent and a goal intended to transcend the realm of play.