Stefan Hoffmann and Robert Schraut of Promotion Software explain the concept of serious games, and outline some features of the AquaScouts game used within the MyPal4Kids study.

A serious game, also called applied game, is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment (Djaouti, Alvarez and Jessel). These primary purposes can be very different – the most common ones are education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, and politics. Therefore, the game makes the player interact or learn about a serious topic, making it a serious game. But even so a Serious Game needs to be as entertaining as a non-Serious Game, otherwise it will fail to succeed in its goals. The most common game genres used in digital serious games are narrative games, like adventures or simulations.

Adventures are one of the most common ways to implement serious topics into a game since the serious part of the game can be integrated into the narrative part of the game. One example is shown here:

“The game is a thriller style adventure. The protagonist is a journalist in a dystopian ‘Blade Runner’ world that suffers from severe weather disasters. Along the challenges throughout the game, the journalist uncovers evidence for manmade global warming that evil corporations and their political puppets try to hide.”

In a non-serious game there would be a focus on the game challenges and the evidence would simply be a plot device without much detail. The game would then focus on the big ending in which the journalist needs to survive and find a way to publish his findings. In a serious game, the evidence would be based on actual scientific data. It would be much more detailed, and it would usually receive much more attention, but it would not reduce the gaming experience of the player. So, the thriller adventure is still fun to play, but you as a player can learn a lot about global warming during the process.

Reversing this concept, a game can be built around the content which should be conveyed to the user. A great example for this is “This war of mine” by 11 Bit Studios.

In “This war of Mine” the player controls several survivors of a war-torn city. While the elements required for survival (scavenging, fighting) create excitement to engage the player, storytelling and deeply moral decision-making create an immersive atmosphere which conveys an image of what a situation like that means for the victims of actual wars.

While digital serious games can be easily distributed to a wide audience (Internet), serious games do not necessarily have to be digital. Paper based educational games to convey knowledge of politics and economics have been around since the 1970s. There are also serious board games. The Board game Vertigo ( for example is a simple economic and environmental simulation in which the players need to balance profit and planetary survival.

In order to create a serious game, the goals, the target audience, and special surrounding conditions need to be well defined. The game part needs to appeal to the audience to ensure their engagement, while the serious part needs to fulfill its purpose.  A good example for this is the MyPal project AquaScouts game.

Our target audience is: Children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 with cancer
The serious part is: These children and adolescents should regularly report their symptoms
Special surrounding conditions are: the regular reporting is to be sustained for a period of 6 months

In the case of AquaScouts, these definitions created several limitations for the game part. The target audience starting at a young age would prohibit any use of violent graphics or gameplay. The special surrounding conditions would negate any game that could be finished or exhausted in a short period of time. The serious part required a game which would be played regularly, but only for short periods of time. This immediately removed the option of an adventure or simulation. The first game that came to mind at this point was Tetris. From there, different casual game play options were explored. At the same time, several thematic options were cross referenced with the gameplay options to create a game meeting all the requirements. The result was Aqua Scouts. The game is a casual runner game in a bright, uplifting and interesting underwater world (inspired by Avatar, Sub Nautica and actual maritime wildlife), designed to regularly draw the player back into the game for a short amount of time. If the children come back regularly to the underwater world and handle the symptom questions regularly, they receive regular rewards: The underwater world reveals its secrets to them.

In-game graphic examples:

In-game graphics examples for the Adult App

Left image: Example of gameplay. Pink, blue and green blips can be collected for points. Obstacles need to be avoided.
Center image: Result screen with reward.
Right image: Exemplary finished artifact