- humans are wired deep down to belong, compete, and gain status. So even abstract structures that allow this primal wiring to play out can be fun, satisfying, even addictive. The same thing in MMOs. It's fun to build a rep, belong to a successful tribe, defend challenges from outsiders, etc. I tap into this wiring all the time to make our work compelling and fun to audiences. - Lane Raichert
- A victorious general wins first and then goes to battle. A losing general goes to battle and then attempts to win. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A serious game is one that attempts to reflect a real world situation or develop a real world skill. Games that influence reality and determine outcomes through prediction and simulation have always existed: chess, go, poker, bridge, Civilization all have been claimed to simulate some aspects of reality and train players to deal with them more rationally. Team sports may also be serious games and certainly players of them are influential in commerce and politics in no small part due to the skills they learn (sports economics).
Buckminster Fuller championed the use of these games, especially a worldgame that would simulate difficult global challenges. The type of game is open, there are card games, board games, and serious video games. While cards don't seem sophisticated, there are plenty of card games that have complex mechanics too and these may translate better to mobile games due to the common need to use less screen space and work in discrete transactions, usually turn-based. See also Nomic and metagame games.
Some basic principles apply to all games:
- The core game mechanic or feedback loop must be an analog of real world action like buying, dating or voting that the user would really do in the world. The basic risk and reward schedules on which the gamer spends 80 per cent of their time: simple, repetitive core game mechanics. "In Doom, this might include running around and shooting enemies. In a RTS, it might involve building up units and attacking other units. Core mechanics borrow from the world of board game design and can typically be abstractly defined" as token/property/rules - Lost Garden. A serious game will mirror business, politics, academic or other real world choices. For instance a game to help users choose a future career would require them to make certain choices of course of study, and then present them with travel and work opportunities to match their acquired skills. They'd spend most of their time evaluating the match between the kind of work they enjoyed and the courses they were qualified to take. A verb:namespace in a game design wiki reflects all verb/noun/types in use, for instance to take a course or allocate time to study or recreation.
- The meta game mechanics include simple initial starting conditions and end of game rules, which tie together core game mechanics. "The most classic example is an RPG. The first RPGs had a simple exploration mode that gave a way of linking multiple tactical battles together." - Lost Garden. An RTS like Alpha Centauri uses a campaign/scenario/battle structure. A serious game must rely on less confrontational structures and will necessarily include faction/role/orders that imply deep cooperation and much more specialized individual roles than a fantasy game where gamers are gods. For instance, issuing orders to people that lead to certain death would be resisted. A doctrine:namespace would necessarily reflect dogmas or ideologies in the real world.
- The base setting or background gives context to the actions gamers perform within the game. "From a marketing perspective, setting acts as an initial hook that gets the player involved and interested in the game in the period of time before the addictive quality of the core game mechanics sets in." - Lost Garden. A serious game must use the real world as its base setting, drawing on history, current statistics or some credible projection of the near future that could reasonably be anticipated now. The issue/position/arguments explored in the game must necessarily be real choices that the user or someone the user wishes to influence would actually face in their lives and would necessarily include problems of much greater scope than any doctrine can solve.
- The contextualized tokens (graphics, sound, etc.) extend the base setting and give audiovisual context for abstract game mechanics. "By providing a richer, more intuitive set of symbolic stimuli to the player, the game designer can shorten the learning curve of the core mechanics. A blocky red 'alien' from Space Invaders is difficult to recognize as 'hostile'. An enemy from the latest Doom game is much more immediately understandable as a token that must be avoided." - Lost Garden. Also more exciting. A business competitor, academic competitor or political rival or dating rival would necessarily be presented as having attributes threatening to one's interests or goals, and would ideally arouse some kind of emotional response in the average/typical users. The individual roles suggested would be recognizable to very educated users who would consider them to be those observed in real world situations, and the dyads and adversarial processes would have real steps and stages, and consequences similar to those for success and failure in the real world.
- The contextualized scenarios, levels and scripted events, put the player in an emotionally interesting arrangement of tokens that support both the base setting and the contextualized tokens. Core game mechanics must focus on interactions between pre-defined game tokens, so the scenarios allow for novelty. Some games have trigger languages, very simple programming languages. A serious game would use real names of famous people, real events, to place someone in a position of making interesting choices, e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis or a future war between US and China. A tech tree might exist but it would include only actual technologies or those reasonably anticipated in the near future. To predict this isn't so easy.
- The overall story increases emotional involvement to extend the limited range of emotions that core gameplay can evoke. The narrative element provides an additional wrapper of context for the actions that the player performs. This lets the designer evoke additional responses beyond what the core mechanics allow. Follow typical screenplay rules and focusing on dyads, tension/frustration/resolution.
Any game can create camraderie even among rivals by formalizing and limiting conflict. See Liness' Law. By offering up a bad answer instead of difficult questions, it may be easier to break logjams. See Lowy's Law. Also, most people resist any necessary change and it may be easier to get them to see a need for it by simulating the bad consequences of failure to change. See Forrester's Law. These are however [instructional]] advantages, typical of any system designed to help people to learn.
In addition to these a serious game will usually help extend social networks to those who have similar attitudes and skills that would be useful in accomplishing a real world task, e.g. to run for office or start businesses or stop projects they consider noxious. The skills involved may not be similar to real actions, but the terms used will: the verb/term/positions could exactly translate to real life!
These principles apply to all online services that have real world effects. Even a relatively simple auction service like eBay shares game mechanics with MMOs: the core game mechanic involves a feedback loop of moving between the maximum number of items or goals and dealing with each with the minimum resources required to win/achieve them, spending as little time as one can on each. One focuses on one item at a time and attempts to overcome the rivals to achieve it first among them. The metagame is the choices users make on who to ally/deal with (game guild or eBay repute) which lead to real world outcomes of success or failure.
Use of random rewards, intermittent reinforcement, maintains an enjoyable addictive feeling of the reward for a longer period of time. Operant conditioning says so. A sandbox scenario introduces new actions. When the goal oriented challenges appear, the player is already trained in the basic use of their character's abilities. A time penalty also encourages frequent use, e.g. in Nintendogs, when you don't play for very long, your character loses some of it's powerups. The dog gets dirty, hungry, etc..
Motivating and rewarding users can be much easier in a serious game, since such prizes as academic credit, cash and invites will often be involved. Despite this, serious games can be fun and usually must be, to acquire users. Most game design best practice applies. So do effects like burnout, milking, game red herrings and game human factors. . Motivation remains a central concern 
Serious services can and usually should include games. A dating service often includes dating games, e.g. Google avapeeps for mobile dating. A job interview game could also be useful in services like LinkedIn. Facebook has a friend game in which users are quizzed about how well they know their friends.
Online games acquire users in the same way as any other game. Some, like Urban Dead, actually let users participate in the game design directly via a wiki, similar to political wiki use to create a party platform. Political activists may also be similar to zombies, as this wiki's logo suggests.
 Questions about games =
Gaming is a highly competitive market; Some genres like RTS are very crowded and unique offerings are required to get any interest at all]. To attract gamers requires asking questions:
- Is the game title part of a pre-existing genre?
- If so how does that title compare to my personal enjoyment of other games in that genre?
- Are there psychological risk / reward systems?
- Are there overlapping reward cycles on different timescales?
- Can the game design be classified into standard game design elements such as tokens, verbs and rules?
- Can the various layers of the game design be separated out so that the title can be examined in terms of core mechanics, metamechanics, contextualized tokens, plot, etc? For instance is there a powerup, a recognizable way to gain more health or power?
- Lost Garden definition of innovation
- Lost Garden definition of game mechanics
- questions about games
- Serious Games Summit
- seriosity.com (Simon Roy, Thomas Malone, Edward Castronova)
- Mark Terrano, Jeff Pobst, Tom Edwards, Andrew Chen, Craig Hubley
The availability of accurate economic and geopolitical and demographic data for purposes of simulation, i.e. a world game, suggests that general reflexive principles can be applied at first in factional and then in general discourse. Professional team sports teach the public some general principles of organizing teams for competition in a rules-based arena, and without a few sucessful political figures from this arena, it's difficult to sell the public that their skills are portable. Once it's clear they are, then, also, wide public familiarity with the more deliberate economic and military technique/technology/doctrine taught in such gaves as Civlization.
The self-organizing, mindset-changing, ultra-reflexive nature of gaming of this nature should gradually lead to an education economics distinct from the subordinate doctrine:develop, ecological economics and examples of human activities (sports, business, war) from which we learned the organizing.
 tactics (actions) and patterns (descriptions) learned
- from doctrine:campaign, doctrine:mobile and others:
- reflexive principles
- sports economics
- ecological economics quantifying real world uncontrollable factors
- economic simulation
- military simulation
- a small uniform core semantics typically just a command grammar that is non-controversial (regarding moves, builds, conflict, negotiation and etc.)
- verb:namespace indicates some of the least controversial of these terms
- ultra-reflexive, e.g. world game, mechanisms incorporating science as substrate rather than ideology
- resilience economics particularly with respect to economics of education
- five ins and thus deliberative demoracy and cognitive democracy
- broader uniform vote semantics suitable for anticipatory democracy, i.e. self-organizing political structures with commit verbs better understood by general population
- core enactivist living ontology patterns towards algebra of doing
- become/remain/equal Bold text