I crossed paths with “serious gaming,” in a serious way twice in one week. First at the Knight Digital Media Center’s Editorial Writers seminar in Los Angeles last week. Later in the week, I attended a gaming session at the Computer Using Educator’s conference in Palm Springs. Both of the gaming presentations were intriguing and relevant for my work.

Much of locative media work I do is with HP proprietary’s Mediascape software. It’s been in beta for a couple of years, but finally HP landed in a partnership with the UK’s Futurelab in Bristol to put a friendly face (and GUI) on the software, and to develop educational and community-based projects that use it. The software is now called Create-a-Scape.

When HP Bristol and Futurelab partnered, the Mediascape software was updated/upgraded, repackaged, and rebranded to “Create-a-Scape,” it became a great piece of software to create and experience mobile locative games. It made perfect sense; sometimes (especially for kids) it’s not enough to just experience; there’s got to be a goal, a reason to be.

Futurelab has long been one of my primary “go to,” places for great ideas around the innovative uses of technology for community engagement. Futurelab focuses on R&D, but also on widespread implementation within the community. There’s lots of info on the “how to,” as well as hard evidence and practical advice born of actually doing the projects. Speaking to my interest are the many projects they develop that use locative media and mobile technologies. They have been the early adopters and innovators with projects like The Pleasurable Cities which investigates how cellphones and emerging technologies help create a dialog between citizens and their local community spaces.

When HP first approached me to create a project for the opening of the 8th International Digital Storytelling Festival in October, 2005, they were interested in seeing how digital storytellers would use this software and emerging technology to embed content in place. Two years later, the focus shifted to education, which means kids, which means games. Makes sense.

Not surprisingly, the conceptual prototypes of using games in an educational setting found solid footing with Henry Jenkins and Kurt Squire at MIT starting in 2001 with the Games to Teach project. This isn’t a history of gaming in education, so I’ll not feel obliged to run the gamut. The gamers among us know so much more that I, but I find it’s becoming an integral part of mobile projects. The term Serious Games is in the vernacular, and we see games that teach, inform, and enlightened but are not necessarily in formal learning environments. They are being used to teach more traditional organizational change issues like Systems Thinking, Collaborative Learning, Leadership, and Professional Development. There are Games for Health being built for healthcare applications and to explore new ways to improve global healthcare. Games are also being designed to effect positive social change which is the social change/social issues branch of the Serious Games Initiative.

I see the merging of the two: mobile gaming but in a serious way, the goal being to better understand the place in which we live and the community spaces we inhabit. Maybe it’s community oriented geo-caching or digital treasure hunting, maybe it’s creating your own digital overlay on the physical spaces you inhabit, thereby sharing the embedded cultural knowledge we all have.