Exclusive : Gordon Brown meets Paris Hilton

Gordon Brown joins a virtual Paris Hilton, a digital Alistair Darling and a simulated Keira Knightley as 3D characters in the SeriousPolicy Game.

The downloadable computer game, developed by serious games and educational simulation specialists PlayGen, sees the player on a mission to win Treasury funding for a new policy.

But this isn’t satire. It’s designed as an example of how computer games can be put to serious use - for both citizen engagement and education.

The downloadable computer game has been developed by PlayGen, specialists in ‘Serious Games’ – cutting edge gaming technology used for training and learning purposes.

“We’re showing how you can engage audiences with new ideas through a medium they’re comfortable with – computer games,” says PlayGen’s MD and head developer Kam Memarzia. “Young people have a fundamental expectation of interactivity – we can use that to deliver educational value.”

The website for the game runs the tag line “Democracy is getting your voice heard”.

Strategic decisions about media strategy and stakeholder engagement mean the difference between winning or losing in the SeriousPolicy Game.

“We can develop games that involve people in policy development or feed into actual public consultations,” says Memarzia. “And we can use the decisions players make to measure real world attitudes.”

‘Serious Games’ is a concept whose time has come. At the 2007 Virtual Worlds Forum, held last month in London, Lord Puttman called for virtual worlds to "encourage [young people] to exercise those same values and skills we wish to see them exercise in the real world."

Companies like Sun , IBM and BP are increasingly turning 3D virtual world technology to internal corporate use.

The United Nations recently launched Food Force, a game that helps people understand the difficulties of dispensing aid to war zones.

And in the US police have collaborated with designers to produce “Booze Cruise,” an educational game on the dangers of drink driving .

“Games are really good at illustrating complex situations,” says Memarzia. “And they can reach huge audiences. Food Force has been downloaded by four million players, a number to rival commercial hits like Grand Theft Auto".