Prof. Vaz de Carvalho, SGAMES 2015: 'I do believe gaming makes a better world’

Currently a Professor of Multimedia and Learning Technologies in the Computer Engineering Department of the Institute of Engineering in Porto (ISEP), of which he has been Vice-Dean and Dean in the past, Carlos Vaz de Carvalho’s areas of interest span from multimedia to technology-enhanced learning. He is the editor of the EAI Endorsed Transactions on Serious Games, Coordinator of the European Network for Serious Games, and General Chair of SGAMES 2015, the 5th International Conference on Serious Games, Interaction and Simulation. We talked to him about the conference, the field, and the hype that surrounds it.

How will this year’s SGAMES be different from the previous editions?

Prof. Carlos vaz de Carvalho, General Chair of SGAMES 2015
Prof. Carlos vaz de Carvalho, General Chair of SGAMES 2015

SGAMES is the continuation of the SEGAN’s conference, an event of the Serious Games Network, a Community of Practice for researchers, developers, other practitioners and stakeholders in Serious Games. The first four editions were closed, by invitation to authors. This is the first time where we have an Open Call for Papers, a more traditional format for conferences. This format will allow us to get more attendees and increased opportunities to discuss and share information and expertise. We’ve also extended the scope of the conference, which now includes the related fields of Interaction and Simulation that are becoming fundamental for Serious Games.

 What are the current and future trends in game-based learning?

Serious Games is not only about game-based learning. Serious Games can be used for marketing and advertising, also called advergames, awareness-raising, skill development, research and other purposes. However, it is true that the most common use of Serious Games is for educational and training purposes – game-based learning. What we are currently seeing is that game-based learning is expanding in terms of areas, domains, markets and offers. Educational games were, and still are, quite common for the initial stages of education. We can find hundreds of games for learning how to read and write, for instance, destined for young children. And there are plenty of other educational games for 8 to 14 year-olds. But we are now seeing a strong trend in the use of games for the training market. And this can be quite important for the financial security of companies that are working in serious games development.

 Where is the line between the real potential of serious games, and hype?

It is true that we are currently on the top of a hype cycle. That means that Serious Games and Gamification became buzzwords that are used too frequently, and sometimes without a real concern for the possibilities and potential of Serious Games. But this is natural, it occurs with all the technologies so we can expect to see a decrease in the serious games hype in the next few years. This doesn’t mean the market will shrink but rather that serious games will be used as a solution when they can be effectively used to tackle a specific problem. Because Serious Games are simply another tool that can be used for personal skill development, educational and training purposes, marketing and so on. When well designed, considering the target group, it is an extremely effective tool because users remain extremely motivated and engaged throughout the whole process. But it is not, and it will never be, a tool that solves all the problems as the current hype seems to indicate.

We have seen a trend of gamification across various areas of life. Will all of our lives become gamified in the future? And do you believe gaming can make a better world?

I do believe gaming makes a better world. Gaming, alone or with friends, is the way we learn everything when we are very young. We develop our initial personal and social skills and competences playing and gaming. And there is no reason to stop using gaming for that purpose afterwards. But, again, it is just another tool that must be used in conjunction with other tools. If I was to tell you that ‘our lives will be completely gamified in the future’, I would just be contributing to the hype. I do believe that serious games will be more and more used but always for specific approaches, when a careful design makes them motivating and engaging tools for the learners and users.