Amid the shadow of Grand Theft Auto IV and the growth of the industry, people are more aware of videogames than ever, but while the more alarmist wings of the mass media see games as a cesspool of violence, others see potential for sharing knowledge and helping society.
Recently, videogame developers and publishers have been teaming up with schools to legitimize video game creation as a serious form of media and creative expression. One of the most recent examples is the partnership struck between the Indiana University School of Education and software developer Vicious Cycle (Robotech: Battlecry, Dead Head Fred) for the use of Vicious Cycle’s Vicious Engine.
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Indiana University professor Bob Appelman is the faculty leader of the Serious Games focus at Indiana University. The program aims to train game developers in the art of creating video games that serve as educational tools to the people who play them.
“[GDC] is where I first saw [Vicious Cycle],” Appelman said. “I saw them there last year and so they said like every developer, every vendor, ‘this is God's gift to the whole creation world and it's so easy, all you have to do is wave your hand and think the right thing and it happens’ and I of course didn’t believe that but they said that ‘we're interested in establishing a relationship with the academic community, would you be interested in our letting you have a free version of this, to be able to play with for a while?’ and we said ‘hell yes.’”
Vicious Cycle Vice President Wayne Harvey shared Appelman’s excitement for licensing the engine to the school.
“We felt like it was really important to get into the educational realm, get our engine exposed to the students in the universities,” Harvey said.
Appleman says off-the-shelf games usually don’t lend themselves to education as well as custom games, but Vicious Cycle’s engine is a solution.
“This will give us an opportunity to actually build some VERY low fidelity prototypes of some concrete learning situations that we can test, and we have a very sophisticated lab that we run all the consoles and everything and some very good methodology for gameplay analysis…”
Appelman is using the program to train instructional designers, graduate professionals that can provide advice to corporations and contractors to use video games as a way to teach and train others in the same way that a video or book might teach an employee how to do their job better.
“So they will be able to walk in to a corporation into a school system into maybe a higher education environment and solve the learning problems by either saying you need standard construction you need to have you know a book, a media, a website, a blog, a wiki, OR you need to have an immersive interactive environment, where because of the types of learning you're talking about requires that the user experiment and interact with the variables, and that’s perfect for the games.”
The team of doctoral students running the project are not the only ones involved in creating video games; professors from the computer science department have tapped into their own resources for assisting with coding and other technical aspects of game design. Even still, the use of the Vicious Engine has streamlined the development process in the classroom.
“We have two other games in development right now that were developed using the Vicious Engine and it’s a really acceptable solution for people who… aren't necessarily programmers,” Harvey said. “We have a point and clicking system that allows them to get in there and script things out and the games do what they want them to do. In fact it’s 100% beta driven so theoretically someone could ship a game without having to right any code and some of our clients have come really close to that.”
(Courtesy of: Indiana University)
Bob Appelman has worked on over 100 educational films with corporations like Disney
The program at Indiana started by designing basic game concepts and exploring where those concepts could go from a learning standpoint. Eventually, Appelman and his students decide on which basic proto-game shows the most promise for the teaching objective they are trying to achieve, and the game concept goes into full production using the Vicious Engine, with the end goal being a working video game that can be used in classrooms.
But Indiana is not the only school to use video games in their curriculums. With funding from Electronic Arts, the University of Southern California opened a program in their interactive media school, right alongside film and television, for students to learn how to create video games.
And University of California Davis professor Peter Yellowlees used the popular online game Second Life to create a virtual simulation of hallucinations to allow medical students to experience schizophrenia in order to better understand treatment conditions for the disorder.
As technology continues to advance, the importance of video games as a medium will further blend itself into the educational process. Not simply regarded as entertainment anymore, video games have an expanding sphere of influence that will legitimize and solidify them as both useful and needed.
Check out TheFeed next week for part two of the marriage of education and gaming as we explore the relationship between raising your SAT score by playing video games.