How Sharmila and Sound Scouts Video Games Make Gaming More Serious

Australian IT developers are creating a new generation of “serious games” that go beyond Mario and Minecraft, providing public health messages, mental health support and awareness campaigns.

Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry said games have become an effective educational tool because people have always learned by playing.

“It’s about using the power of games to engage and motivate, to do more than just be entertaining,” he said.

A screenshot of Sharmila, developed by Chaos Theory Games for the World Food Program.

The Digital Australia 2022 report revealed that 17 million Australians of all ages and genders play games. The nationally representative survey of more than 3,100 people in more than 1,200 households found that people play games not only for entertainment, but also to achieve health outcomes such as improved function mental health, balance and coordination, and emotional well-being.

The games have been used in school settings for many years – Reading Eggs and Mathletics are staples in Australian schools and even Minecraft has an educational edition. Three in five parents in the Digital Australia report say their children use games in the school curriculum.

“Gamification” – where you use game design principles to educate and motivate people – has been a buzzword in corporate circles for about a decade, but the trend is now mainstream. Serious games are widely used, including in adult education, public health messaging and testing, mental health support, and awareness campaigns.

Many universities offer courses in serious game design and development and some universities such as Flinders University and the University of the Sunshine Coast offer full degrees.

In recognition of the accelerating trend, there has been a serious games category at the Australian Game Developer Awards since 2019. Last year’s winner was Sharmila for the World Food Program, developed by Chaos Theory Games.

The trend is good for the Australian game development industry, which struggles to compete with global companies. Curry said the industry employs about 1,700 people locally, compared to Canadian industry, which supports about 27,000 jobs.

John C. Dent