The core of the gaming industry has always been young men with plenty of free time but increasingly investors and developers are trying to attract the casual gamers, including women, who have less time and infrequent contiguous blocks but are still interesting in being part of the gaming experience.

This new genre is called ‘casual games’ and is attracting players from all around the world. "These new games are quick to learn and the focus is on fun rather than on making the games difficult or time consuming", explains lecturer Jesper Juul, who has through his research placed a focus on computer game design at the IT University of Copenhagen.

Jesper Juul

"Games should not be seen as just being a pastime, but rather should be seen as encapsulating the desire to challenge ourselves and learn something new", says Jesper Juul. He explains that all games are about learning. “When you play a new game, you begin with little knowledge, but you gradually develop game skills and strategies. Learning is one of the core pleasures of all games - from card games to computer games”.

Feelings at Play: I Promise I Will Be Unhappy if I Lose Playing is to a great extent about feelings. As a player, you are emotionally attached to the outcome of the game. "Even if you flip a coin with another person, it is difficult to avoid being a little happy if you win or a bit unhappy if you lose", Jesper Juul explains.

"When you play a game, you enter into a contract where you promise to be happy if you win and unhappy if you lose. If you play a game with other people, you must enter into this contract or you be considered a spoilsport and will not be asked to play next time. Casual games are relaxation games which allow you to play for short periods of time. This means that you as a player are measured less on the amount of time you use on the game, but more on the strategies you can create. The increasing degree of difficulty forces the player to redefine their strategies. It is this continuous challenge which more and more people are attracted to", says Jesper Juul.

Casual games fit into the social contexts of everyday life, and designed to be interruptible. "All types of people are attracted to the games", says Jesper Juul, who points out that the most surprising aspect of this type of game is that they primarily attract women players in the age group of 35 to 50 years. A part of the explanation can be that these women are looking for a different type of gaming experience than the young men who you traditionally see play computer games. "The new players are not interested in using hours or days on getting started. They want to have fun in the first few minutes of play", Jesper Juul explains.

Broad Recognition From the Research World and the Games Industry

The IT University each year identifies exceptional research which both contributes new knowledge and provides proposals on how the new insight can be used. Jesper Juul’s research has just been recognized as one of the best research contributions from the IT University’s research in 2006. The accolade is, in addition to Jesper Juul’s basic research, for his book Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds¸ which is published by the American publisher MIT Press.

A central tenet of the book is that computer games are half-real. "You play with real rules while imagining yourself in a fantasy world. You win or lose a game in the real world but you kill (for example) a dragon in the imaginary game world. As a player, you navigate between two perspectives - one moment you imagine that you are moving around a fantasy world, in the next moment you are relating to the game’s rules and looking to optimize your strategy", Jesper Juul explains.

The young researcher is not only recognized in Denmark for his work. The games industry veteran Ernest Adams describes Half-Real as one of the books everyone in the games industry should read, and the leading industry journal Game Developer Magazine nominated Half-Real as book of the year in 2006.

Source: IT University of Copenhagen