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Researchers Make a Case For Learning Through Video Game Creation 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-third-graders-get-to-experience-crunch-time dept.
ub3r n3u7r4l1st sends along this snippet from Science Daily: "Computer games have a broad appeal that transcends gender, culture, age and socio-economic status. Now, computer scientists in the US think that creating computer games, rather than just playing them, could boost students' critical and creative thinking skills as well as broaden their participation in computing. ... 'Worldwide, there is increasing recognition of a digital divide, a troubling gap between groups that use information and communication technologies widely and those that do not,' the team explains. 'The digital divide refers not only to unequal access to computing resources between groups of people but also to inequalities in their ability to use information technology fully.' There are many causes and proposed solutions to bridging this divide, but applying them at the educational and computer literacy level in an entertaining and productive way might be one of the more successful. The team adds that teaching people how to use off-the-shelf tools to quickly build a computer game might allow anyone to learn new thinking and computing skills."
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Researchers Make a Case For Learning Through Video Game Creation

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  • Gamers grown up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25, 2010 @04:35AM (#30887366)
    Sounds like the first batch of kids who grew up playing lots of Nintendo 30 years ago became researchers, and realized they're not as screwed up as everyone thought they would be.
    • Re:Gamers grown up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Monday January 25, 2010 @04:53AM (#30887466) Journal
      They mention using "off-the-shelf" tools...that's a tricky one. It's a fine balance between making the process challenging vs. instructive. If you use off-the-shelf engines to slap in your own graphics and levels, it's debatable how educational the experience will be. On the other hand, if you get mired in developing an engine or coding AI logic, etc., then it's debatable how much "video games" have to do with it, versus plain ol' CS education.
      • Re:Gamers grown up (Score:5, Interesting)

        by b4k3d b34nz (900066) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:18AM (#30887568)

        I suppose you're correct if you look at it as teaching kids how to program video games, but it looks like they're trying to get them to learn critical and creative thinking in a broad range, rather than xor'ing pixels all day.

        If you compare it to art class, where students liberally steal ideas and style from Van Gogh and Matisse (and Bob Ross) yet still learn the basics of how to paint, I think that in the same way students will be able to pick up some basics of the thought processes involved in designing something from scratch, in a variety of disciplines. Even with off-the-shelf software, they will still have to think on the surface of how to render out an environment, build characters or puzzles, and create some sort of user interface and menu system. It'll likely be slapped together and a horrible program, but it could definitely build computer skills for those with a penchant for problem-solving and creative thinking.

        I think it's a good idea overall, but the implementation will probably completely fail in the US due to lack of capable teachers.

        • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

          students liberally steal ideas and style

          Stealing? Try learning.

          • by tepples (727027)
            If you rank highly in the MAFIAA, and the person "learning" isn't in the MAFIAA, then the person "learning" from you is stealing.
          • Did you even read the rest of the sentence?

            Copying the brush technique from "Starry Night" is stealing it in the case of most art students, but they'll learn something along the way.

            I'm not saying it's stealing in the same sense as taking food from the grocery, so don't get all ridiculous on me.

      • Re:Gamers grown up (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MikeFM (12491) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:17AM (#30887832) Homepage Journal
        I can see some benefit to using off-the-shelf components to make it easier but I hope they concentrate on programming and not just dropping components together and setting some options. Python w/ Pygame I think would be a great start. Back in the day we learned LOGO and BASIC but now it seems most of the kids don't get this kind of exposure to computer programming. I'm sure I'm biased but I think programming skills should be added to the three R's as it's incredibly useful to develop the needed thinking skills and pretty useful to have some idea how to write custom programs later in life. Almost everyone I know asks for little custom apps they have thought of but don't know how to make for themselves. I think a simple app constructor is the killer app waiting for Android/iPhone. When people can quickly and easily make and share their own apps it will bring a whole new aspect to these universal devices. It's a matter of making it possible to graphically work with common programming features (like Scratch programming) and powerful pre-built components.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by sourcerror (1718066)
          Well, we have visual programming languages, but they aren't really easiser for the users to use them. (Not easiser than a regular scripting language) [wikipedia.org]

          I tried one which generated J2EE apps, but actually, but it just slowed me down, and making the diagrams look neat took much more effort than to make the code neat. (You know, a lot of wires crossing each other etc.) Actually, writing an autoindent module for textual code is much easier than for a graph based language.
          Actually what makes diagrams in gen
        • by mdwh2 (535323)

          A "simple app constructor" would be a killer app for any platform.

          • by MikeFM (12491)
            I used to have a graphical shell script creator. Was sort of cool. You could drag around bash shell elements as well as common cli programs and could define your own. I don't think anyone but me ever used it.
          • by MikeFM (12491)
            Probably but all the ones I've seen have languished as a toy.
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There's always 'Construct', a free and open-source 'game constructor' at www.scirra.com, but it doesn't do Android or iPhone yet...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sourcerror (1718066)
        Well, you can use some open-source engines, like Apocalyx or Panda3d, where you can do everything with a scripting language (Lua or Python) and no C/C++ skills are required. Of course this only takes care for rendering and physics, you have to do the AI yourself. (But that's the most intresting part anyway.)
      • by Drethon (1445051)
        I work in the avionics industry and all of my work is modifying existing code or inserting new functionality into existing code. Using off the shelf engines would be the same as what I do every day.
      • Actually, it can be relatively simple.

        Have a look at Omega, brought out in 1989: http://www.mobygames.com/game/omega_ [mobygames.com]
        A game teaching you how to program a tank.

        Another nice thing came out in the late 80s for the Mac: ChipWits.
        (Obviously I now have to point to my free PC version in the sig, although that's not the point of this post)
        You programmed a ChipWit robot to drink coffee and avoid bugs by a simple icon-based language. Great fun :)

        Ciao,
        Klaus

      • I've given several classes in programming games in the Netherlands. Most recently for a group of 11 year olds at IMC Weekend-School. For this I use the off the shelf tool, Game Maker.

        What surprises me is that an 11 year old kid, with a 10 minute training, can create a fun and interesting game in just 2 hours. They can analyse there game concept and add a layer of abstraction to it to program it. They can convert the idea, the cat needs to move to his basket while luring the dog away to the concept, the o
      • This is what MIT's Scratch [mit.edu] is all about. It tries to turn programming into visual puzzle pieces so that even kids should be able to get the context without having to worry about semicolons and such. And to the poster below complaining of a "lack of capable teachers", the age of usefulness of capable teachers is coming to an end. What is more appropriate now from the point of view of educational and cognitive research is an age where we have capable coaches guiding us in the process of teaching ourselves.
      • Game design is different from game programming, just as writing is different from typesetting and presentation. Thinking of the rules of a game and their interactions is probably an excellent way of raising people who are going to vote on real-life rules such as laws or the people who will create laws.

        People think 'politics' is the problem but that excuse doesn't fly in a democracy. The problem is the voters who don't think their wishes through completely.
  • by bronney (638318) on Monday January 25, 2010 @04:52AM (#30887456) Homepage

    I super hates stories like this that generalize "computer skills" with computer science. Most of the programmers I know aren't gamers, and most gamers aren't programmers. Most of the programmers have great skills solving a computer science problem, but might run into problems with diagnosing a hardware/software conflict to make their legacy Soundblaster Audigy work with Battlefield 2 (as an example).

    For a car analogy *ahem* this is just like, a godlike car mechanic might not be a "good" driver, whatever good means, and a good driver might not be able to fix cars. Both driving and fixing are skills. Teaching kids to make games doesn't magically make him/her a better computer user. It doesn't teach them to Win-L when they walk away from the terminal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Antiocheian (859870)

      I don't think that a car analogy can work here, but a pizza analogy might. You mean that if I like pizzas doesn't necessarily mean I can make good ones ? Or not ?

      A good Pizza Analogy anyone ?

      • It's like the difference between eating a really good pizza and being a really good pizza, I think.
        • by bronney (638318)

          A closer analogy I think is:

          Knowing how to make a pizza and then making it, doesn't mean it'll taste good. And, making good pizza doesn't mean you know exactly what you did, you're just talented.

          • I think I get it, but I'm having a little difficulty with the example you've used... Could you make it into a car analogy for me?
            • by bronney (638318) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:31AM (#30887908) Homepage

              Ok sure, it's like when a car runs out of gasoline, you have to fill it up. But sometimes you do it with 87 octane and you know it's not enough.

              So you go to the supermarkets, and get a can of green peas and also a copy of electronic gaming monthly. You head back to the car and all of a sudden, the 87 octane didn't seem so bad cuz if you filled it with 93, you would've have the peas.

              Get it?

              • So you're saying that you can increase 87 octane fuel to 93 by buying tinned peas? Thanks! That'll save me some money :)

                I was going to ask if I should put them in the fuel tank, but then realised that they'd block the injectors. Should I mix them in a pan with some 87 octane first? Over a halogen hob of course... We all know that petrol doesn't mix well with fire!
      • by sorak (246725)

        Maybe he means that, if you make good pizza, then you need a good driver to deliver it. If you make bad pizza, then you'd better be a good driver. If you make bad pizza and you can't drive, then you need to own a pizzeria, preferably, a Dominoes, where you can be bad at both and still make money.

        I could draw you a chi-square, if you'd like, but slashdot doesn't support tables.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by StripedCow (776465)

      Most of the programmers have great skills solving a computer science problem

      Not really accurate. Computer scientists invent and analyze algorithms, whereas programmers just implement them.

      • by selven (1556643)

        Which is why most programmers are, to some extent, computer scientists.

        • Yes, like plumbers are, to some extent, professors in fluid dynamics ;)

          • Fortunately the founders of Google didn't think like you.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mdwh2 (535323)

            In any job I've worked at, as well as anything I do in my spare time, my "programming" also involved developing the algorithm to do a certain task.

            I can see that some simple programming jobs might not need you to develop algorithms. But for those companies that need that - are there really companies where they hire separate computer scientists and programmers, where the former explains the algorithm than the programmer simply does the laborious work of translating algorithms to code?

            If you want to talk abou

            • I think it is more like you have one pure mathematician who works out some crazy new maths and then you get an applied mathematician who works out how to use it for something practical.

            • by drkim (1559875)
              Kind of like Einstein and Besso...
  • ...most new games are oriented mostly to one type of people: MMO or MMA on consoles which i hope, future elite of nations will be far away from Ok, was not funny.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Not funny, but it does raise a point; the ideal environment for this might well be some sort of graphical MUD. I would personally begin with Sauerbraten, and add a nice LUA interface or something, at least as a proof-of-concept. I'm envisioning something like Second Life, but with content creation tools that don't hurt your brain. Why is it that Open Source software nearly always has a shit interface? Even FreeCiv, which gives you tons more control over units and cities than the games on which it is based,

    • by tepples (727027)

      MMO or MMA on consoles

      What do massively multiplayer online and mixed martial arts have to do with each other?

  • modding support (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GarretSidzaka (1417217) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:27AM (#30887596)

    There is a way already here: it is called game modding. Modding is almost as good as creating a new game, and doesn't cost the millions for dev or engine licensing.

    Downside is you don't get paid.

    • Re:modding support (Score:5, Interesting)

      by daid303 (843777) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:08AM (#30887782)

      Indeed. Modding is great. I learned loads from UT modding. It makes understanding OOP much easier as when you start you can relate 'objects' to ingame stuff that you can see, while later you find out that there are many 'objects' that you cannot see at all. It gives a base for AI, it teaches programming of course, it learns you about debugging and performance.

      You don't have to create the next countersstrike or whatever, just make something fun. And it will teach you a lot more then sitting in a classroom.

      • s/then/than/
      • by Vahokif (1292866)
        Better yet, show them Garry's Mod [garrysmod.com]. It's fun to play around in normally but you can script objects, weapons and even game modes using only Lua.
      • yes. and people are driven while modding, much like a gamer playing a favorite game. After you master a game you realize what it was missing and you want to change it. Or maybe make a different story/concept.

        I mod Civilization 4 (Second Revolution mod) and i host a podcast on modding called ModCast [slashdot.org].

  • It helped my math (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I dunno about creativity, but dabbling in game programming made me understand and appreciate math better. I've always hated math for it's own sake and avoided learning at all costs, but when I started messing around in pygame I had trig make sense for the first time thanks to the vectors of a moving sprite and I taught myself linear equations all over again too.

  • Alice? (Score:3, Informative)

    by blankinthefill (665181) <blachancNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:02AM (#30888060) Journal
    This sounds a lot like an extension of Alice (http://www.alice.org/). The idea is that you learn to program by writing stories/scripts (in the movie sense, not the IT sense) with the various objects of the language. It sounds like they would like to extend beyond that, but in terms of rudimentary learning, Alice is great, and its a much softer introduction to thinking algorithmically/learning to program than something like C or C++ or Java right off the bat.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Seriously, don't half teach people how to program. If I can teach myself to program in 6th grade, on my own, I'm sure anyone else who has the motivation can learn to program, especially with someone helping them. Teaching them "beginner" languages is just dumb. Teach them an easy language, but one with actual uses. Not some "programming language for girls!" bullshit.

  • by Skuto (171945)

    So they're concluding that performing a complex multidisciplinary task requiring thinking, planning and problem solving skills, but that is also fun improves student performance and learning?

    I'm shocked!

  • The only reason there is a digital divide is because of copyright law. Programmers have the benefit of creating something that can be sold over and over again, whether it is embedded in a service such as a bank, insurance company, or financial house, or, off the shelf. This benefit is generally created by copyright law and patents. If you didn't have those things, then, you, programmers wouldn't be able to cash in selling stuff over and over again because everyone could just copy it once made. Then, pro

  • Good Luck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mayko (1630637) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:01AM (#30888686)
    Good luck. I think this is a good idea... but then again I would call myself a critical thinker.

    What they haven't taken into account is that most kids who play computer/console games are not critical thinkers in the sense they want them to be. I know plenty of people who, when we were young, thought the idea of making a game would be a dream job... then after a 10 week C++ class in high school they realized. "Hey, this is shit really hard.... and boring."

    The fact is that most people play games because they are an easy escape from life, or a good way to socially interact. Your typical madden, or call of duty player doesn't give a shit about critical thinking, or programming.
  • "Y'know, being creative, can, like, make you more creative. Amaaazing!" Where do these guys get their funding?
  • by elecmahm (1194167) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:47AM (#30889058)

    The critical thinking and intimate understanding isn't exclusive to VIDEO game development -- it's a fundamental aspect of game design. One must understand the inner workings of whatever it is you're trying to model, at an abstract level, in order to make a game out of it.

    Tabletop gaming also doesn't require a computer (although they can facilitate it), so schools with less computer access can still participate. The best part, too, is that there is likely to be one or two games each year that are actually fun to play; Those games can be used by future classes for teaching. In a classroom environment, where kids are forced away from video games anyways, allowing tabletop games in should be a welcome alternative to enduring lectures.

    There's a whole movement called "Serious Games" -- MSU even has a graduate degree in it. Check it out.

  • I always had the idea that learning school subjects through games would be much more entertaining and therefore the retention level would be much higher. I remember many classes (particularly Algebra) that where very boring to me when taught through conventional methods as such, I barely passed the class with a D-. But when I got home, and tinkered around with my Commodore 64 to program very simple games with "Basic" I inadvertently learned Algebraic concepts without realizing it. When I took college
  • This is a good idea but it's certainly not new. It's commonly called "constructionism" and was put forward by Seymour Papert back in the 60's or 70's. Based on the work of Jean Piaget, constructionism basically holds that you learn by building or constructing something, particularly if you do it in public view. This is why Papert created Logo. He wasn't just looking for a new way to play with his massive Lego collection; he had a sound theoretical framework for learning and cognition and was looking for
  • Steps to make it work:
    1) at age 8, refuse to buy games
    2) tell that need to create it yourself if one wants games
    3) provide necessary tools to build it
    4) provide computer
    Rest will happen automatically. Should be careful with disappointments that happen when the game is completely ready, but noone else wants it. It's the process of creating it that is most interesting and handling complexity and deciding what aspects makes the game interesting -- anything outside that process i

  • Making games sounds fun and forward thinking, but if you imagine implementing such a course you are looking at huge hardware, software, and human resource requirements. Even if all software is open source and free, someone who can teach children how to program is someone who can get a 6 figure income anywhere else... And with the public education system having problems keeping normal talent, counting on them to retain talented teachers is not being very realistic.

    But before going high-tech, schools are alre

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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