Games have traditionally offered an escape from reality and for many, are a source of fun and relaxation.

But according to one Griffith University researcher, the future of gaming extends far beyond pure entertainment.

Dr Tim Marsh is researching ‘serious games’, a growing body of research which explores how games can provoke deeper emotion, stimulate discussion and inform players.

Dr Marsh’s soon-to-be-released prototype does exactly that. “The Reef Game” is an app for phone or tablet that takes the player on a journey through the Great Barrier Reef and aims to raise awareness of the issues affecting the ecosystem.

In this game, the player interacts with abundant wildlife in pristine waters before the environment is destroyed by industrialisation, with the opportunity to explore at each stage of gameplay.

Dr Marsh says he presented “The Reef Game” at a research conference in the United Kingdom earlier this year and received the reaction he had hoped for.

“Participants referred to the fast play scene as a ‘fun game’ — but after completing the final scene of the game, typical reactions were ‘that’s disguising’ and ‘that’s horrible’.”

The Reef Game - Scene 3 Slow Play Dead Reef

Dr Marsh’s game builds on his research into how games can borrow devices from film, theatre, interactive art and experimental games to create a different experience for the user, using a combination of both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ gameplay to shape moods, feelings and emotions.

“Film can make you cry, but ask yourself when was the last time a game made you cry? My research is exploring ways to do this.”

Dr Marsh says people often think ‘serious games’ are educational games like those used in schools, but these games can be off-putting to adults.

“Serious gaming goes beyond education and information; it’s used for much broader applications. It’s trying to bring gaming in line with other industries that have been using devices to jolt the user out of their usual state into a more thinking and questioning mode.”

Dr Marsh says the design strategies used in “The Reef Game” can be employed in many different ways — and the possibilities are enormous.

“In the near future we’re going to see an escalation in serious games available through social media sites and apps stores, providing engaging activity and thought-provoking messages, arguments, stories and experience. For example, we will see games about environmental and social issues and documentary and news games.”

“The Reef Game” will be available for Androidin the new year.

The Reef Game - Scene 2 Fast Play Game ii