Could watching grown men and women dressing up and acting silly be the future of Serious Games?

We are talking here about LARPing, specifically Nordic Live Action Role-Play. This is a very popular medium for education which allows participants to see the topic they are studying up close and from a different perspective. In itself Nordic LARP (not to be confused with other forms of the medium) is quite simple; Participants are provided with background information, build their character and are immersed in a stimulating environment. There is, however, a lot of learning going on in the creation and development of the character and on interacting with one another. And to be totally honest, it’s a lot of fun! So it is serious in the topics it can cover, educational in the research it facilitates and the interactive perspective it proposes, and fun.

At Heriot-Watt University, we believe that the Nordic Larp medium has the potential to put forward new ideas in the Serious Games domain and move the genre distinctively away from it entertainment counterpart. But how realistic is it for Serious Games developers to digitally replicate complex characters which only live due to the cognitive abilities of its owner/player?

In this blog, we will bluntly put forward two thoughts: 1) Serious Games have a lot to learn from Nordic LARP and 2) Artificial Intelligence (AI) and character-based dynamic affective systems are key to it happening one day.

The kind of technologies developed by AI GALA partners in the UK (HWU) and Portugal (INESC-ID/GAIPS) currently allow for characters to act autonomously on the basis of their characterisation, which is essentially what happens in Nordic LARP. In itself it offers serious games an opportunity to develop complex and meaningful characters for interaction within a pedagogic setting.

AI or  Character-based Interactive Storytelling have the potential to challenge conventional thinking and the current state of what is possible with Non-Player Characters (NPC) in Serious or entertainment games. Character-based technical innovations in this area will offer Serious Games developers new opportunities to exploit and help education experts bridging efficient non-digital pedagogical interventions and digital Serious Games. While this is a bold statement, this is first and foremost an optimistic statement. One we think at Heriot-Watt could play a part in differentiating serious games from entertainment games a little bit more.

Nordic LARP is a fascinating medium and we would encourage Serious Games designers to have a look at it from the perspective of education and learning. It offers a different view to learning and education and could be what we are all looking for.

So, back to our opening statement, Could watching grown men and women dressing up and acting silly be the future of Serious Games? – What do you think?

Sandy Louchart, Neil Suttie, Theo Lim

Heriot-Watt University

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