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Gaming is required

Mar 26, 2009 In Web Culture By Hans Hugli

Last year I was forwarded a 3 year study done by the Digital Youth Project published by the University of Berkeley that supported a long time opinion of mine, that gaming, texting and socializing online could actually be beneficial for people and most importantly our youth.

The irony is that the studies’ findings countered general consensus on the topic. It’s always very fascinating to me, when it is found after deep examination, that findings contradict what the majority of people had assumed.

Experimenting in a real world physical environment helps children to learn about that environment. For example, kids that play with water in the sink are generally going to understand the concept of conservation of volume much more quickly than someone that has never had the opportunity. Taken to its extreme, the military now endorses using “games” as a means of training its soldiers; not to mention that flight simulators train our pilots. If a simulated environment is close enough to reality, it can be close to indistinguishable from reality.

To support my belief that new media is beneficial: My daughter has become an avid fan of Second Life, drawn to it for the social networking aspect. I’ve not truly experienced it firsthand, but I have been privy to the secondhand experience in more detail than I care to know. As for the benefits: I can attest that it’s been a forcing function for my daughter to learn about concepts and computers in many ways. To cite some examples: She’s learned to type very fast. In interacting with her peers she has increased her vocabulary substantially, and prides herself in that. She’s learned to hold deep conversations and stand up for herself. Working in this environment has compelled her to learn new tools such as 2D packages like Gimp and Photoshop and 3D packages like 3D Studio MAX and Maya. It’s motivated her to learn how to research to find the best solution for a problem, and to network with peers to assist her in finding that solution. She’s learned to understand the concept of a working economy and learned the value of buying/selling,trading and bartering. The list goes on.

I myself have always been more interested in applications that simulate physics and reality,from simple web apps to games that require complex physics such as PGR4 or Forza II. These kinds of apps can be fun and persuasive, and if properly executed, can simultaneously teach fundamental concepts. One simple and popular example that’s been around for years has recently gained media attention: LineRider. LineRider is fun, and yet demonstrates concepts of gravity, kinetics and momentum.

Writing apps like these are generally not for the light hearted and usually take a fair amount of math and physics knowledge. There are physics libraries that exist that can take away some of the burden of writing such an app. Here’s the “Physics Helper” Silverlight library you can experiment with, with samples. Here is the Farseer Silverlight physics engine that the Physics Helper is dependent on.

Here are a few examples of some simple apps that I’ve found fun, yet educational: A Motor Physics sample, an example of a soft body physics sample, a Digital Logic Simulator, and here’s a fun visualization that applies physics. Here how the visualization was put together.

As with everything there is always a potential danger in software written to emulate reality; if key concepts are missing, it will create a false reality, such as a game that simply chooses to ignore important concepts like gravity, or lack of accountability for actions such as paying for something.

What’s your take on new media? Do you agree with the findings of the Living and Learning New Media study? What are you personal experiences? Do you know of some interesting game or physics examples? Make a comment below or tweet me!

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6 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Matthew Kane said on Mar 26, 2009

A contrary opinion (courtesy of my 13-year-old daughter) at

Hans Hugli said on Mar 26, 2009

Thanks for your comment @Matthew. After reading her comment I don''t find it so contrary though.

I agree that chatting with one another in a classroom setting is silly at best. I''m guessing that there were no ill intentions by the person(s) that devised the curriculum, but I can see that the message that the students recieved was misguiding and should be rectified. As a suggestion they could have the students chat with a classroom in a different state or country, which would make more sense and might actually be enlightening.

I don''t subscribe to the notion that people should only communicate electronically. In fact I prefer real social interaction, and promote it with my daughter, however I also don''t believe that one should steer clear of electronic interaction, since it enables people to interact globally and break out of the closed systems we have historically lived in.

Your daughter acknowledges that she blogs because it provides her with a means to communicate with a larger audience, and that is what I consider it to be all about!

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