Michaël Bas thrives in uncharted territory. Over the past sixteen years, he and his team have paved the way for serious gaming in the Netherlands, successfully completing more than 400 serious games projects in sectors such as healthcare and corporate training. As Co-founder of Ranj Serious Games, Bas knows all too well that good research is difficult to come by in this relatively young design field and that the Serious Games Industry faces an urgent need to develop new knowledge in order to foster innovation.
After earning his Fine Arts degree from Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam, Bas went on to study Image and Media Technology at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht. At a time when digital technologies were still in their infancy, he helped create several digital animation series for the Dutch broadcasting organization VPRO for the better part of a decade. In 1999, he and his partners founded Ranj, developing the first online games in the country with an educational purpose.
“Back then, it wasn’t called serious games because the term was not common at that time,” Bas says. “Actually, nobody knew anything about serious games. When we started out, there were only two companies doing these things in the Netherlands and Ranj was one of them.”
Bridging the gap
In 2014, Bas took on an entirely different role as a Design United Visiting Professor at Delft Technical University. Although he is not a researcher per se, Bas serves as a conduit between game developers and researchers, bringing much-needed coherence to game design research by setting the agenda. He is also an outspoken advocate of collaboration within the design community and with other industries. As a result, Bas encourages design researchers to present their work in ways that appeal to a much broader audience to better facilitate knowledge dissemination.
Bas’ research advocacy and community engagement stems from his desire to be an agent of change. “I would really like to make an impact in the world,” he explains. “I believe that a lot of things that we’re doing is not optimal. Over the years, we’ve built systems that are now broken. Of course, it was good at the time, but with it, we lost a lot of things that motivate us. I strongly believe that if you like what you do, you become a better person.”
The way of the future
Given the complexities of serious game development, Bas is convinced that design research can provide significant insights into people’s behaviours and motivations, giving game developers and design practitioners the necessary tools to chart the way forward. “We need the knowledge in order to make better designs,” he claims. “A lot of the research we’re doing is all about how people work. While you’re examining why certain things work and why people are motivated by certain things, you also learn about human beings as a whole.”
That being said, Bas believes that the future of game design lies in user personalization. He also considers artificial intelligence and speech recognition technologies as major game changers in the industry, allowing game developers to create believable characters and scenarios.
“The game design arena will become broader and broader,” Bas claims. “I see the possibility of tackling societal challenges by using game principles. And I want to be at the forefront when this happens.”
Video about Serious Gaming and Michaels role in that (2011, in Dutch)