Malta Develops Fun But Serious Digital Games


Malta’s service economy has experienced staggering developments over the past ten years. The benefits that have been gained through the dedicated improvement of the island’s technological infrastructure are marked and clear, and most importantly are paying off.

As recently reported, Malta is participating in an inter­national project partly funded by the European Union to develop a video game that supports the role of teachers and helps them educate young people on how to understand and resolve conflicts. The Siren Project, with funding to the tune of €2.93 million, is evidence of Malta’s efforts in the nascent local video game development industry.

According to i-Tech Georgios N. Yannakakis from the Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta, the Maltese partner in the project – “Malta is among the few countries in the world that did the obvious: It placed digital games as one of the priority sectors of financial development and growth.”

Mr Yannakakis continued by saying that “Doing so has resulted in an increasing number of small-medium (and large) enterprises being established in the country today. Supported by proper educational programmes, such as our top-notch graduate MSc course in Digital Games, and word-class game research at the Institute of Digital Games, Malta has managed to invest intelligently in all three stakeholders required for a healthy growth of a financial sector: education; research; and development. It all projects to be a shining future for creative and game development industries in Malta, I believe.”

The project brings together world-class research groups from Greece, Denmark, Malta, Portugal, UK and the US, and an award-winning game design company from Denmark, which worked together to design and develop an interactive environment which benefits from recent advances in serious games, social networks, computational intelligence and emotional modelling to create uniquely motivating and educating games that can help shape how children think about and handle conflict.

The artificial intelligence of the game recognises emotional and behavioural patterns of the players and profiles them with respect to their abilities to deal with conflict. It then monitors how well they perform across conflict scenarios of varying difficulty and automatically picks the next game quest for each player, thereby personalising the conflict resolution training.

The team had a set of challenges to overcome to come up with a game that reaches the goals set by the project. “The main challenge for the Siren project consortium has been the design of a game that will be both playable and highly engaging for children but, at the same time, will foster their ability to resolve conflict. Serious games are often accused of under-delivering as most of them are games children don’t want to play. Unfortunately, the priority for designers and educators in those cases has been placed entirely on the learning objective(s) the game attempts to address. The Siren game, on the other hand, pushes children to try alternate ways of handling conflict and it is a fun game to play too!” reassured Prof Yannakakis.