Two NSF-funded Serious Games examples

Catching up on blogging from the airport in Recife.  I like this place, but there´s no place like home, right?  On the way!

The article is from November 7, on, and is by Peter Stephenson, Stephen Lecrenski and Brent Peckham: Increasing Student Retention in Computer Science.  While I recommend clicking and reading the article in detail, and will highlight it below, I was disappointed that it was in fact little about increasing student retention in Computer Science.  Other than mention below of the NSF grant as the context in which these projects were done, there was no further mention (except for Stephen Lecrenski´s personal anecdote) of the retention issue.  The article does point out, though, that there is a distinction between retention of CS graduate students and CS undergrads.  I will look for some data about the graduate level and blog about that when I find it.  My assumption is that undergrad retention is a much lower percentage than graduate retention – but that is an assumption that needs verification at this point.  I´d also like to see some research on the different factors are impacting each statistic, and will look for those.

Since 2004, the University of Rhode Island and The IMEDIA Academy have been running a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site sponsored by the National Science Foundation to encourage student retention in computer science in graduate programs and scientific careers.

One current research direction that we are pursuing in the program is the use of serious games in education and entertainment.

In these two projects we developed two small yet serious games with the aim to evaluate and compare their educational impacts.

The Deep Sea project places an aquaria visitor in a submarine, 4,000 meters below the surface of a virtual ocean. Because it is too expensive to replicate deep sea aquatic environments at sea level, computer game simulations such as Deep Sea can allow players to explore and experience life in the abyss. The environment we modeled surrounds a hydrothermal vent and contains a number of creatures such as tube worms, angler fish, fangtooth fish, and a vampire squid. The player can navigate around the site and click on any specimen encountered to gain information about what they are experiencing.

 Cool, eh?  I´d like to play that one!

The article continues with more screenshots, and an analysis of what when right with this game project.  The what went wrong analysis is conspicuously absent!  😀

It next discusses a project on vision impairment simulation.  Here´s Brent Peckham´s overview of his project:

The motivation behind the project is that there are a large number of visually disabled people in society. While they can do most activities that non-disabled people can, certain tasks are harder for them. The government has protected these disabled peoples’ rights and helped prevent discrimination by passing such laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is therefore important for the non-disabled people to create products and businesses with the disabled in mind. This visual impairment simulator helps give people a first hand experience of what it is like to have certain visual disabilities.

The project was created by finding a game engine, in this case Unreal Tournament 2004, and creating the appropriate modifications to it in order for it to become a visual impairment simulator. Objects such as weapons, health, and the ability to kill were removed in order to create wide-open environments to allow the user to explore while experiencing visual impairments of their choice. By being given the opportunity to explore and interact with the environment from a first person point of view while having an impairment triggered, it was hoped that users would learn about what it is like to be visually disabled.

While this doesn´t exactly sound like fun, it does indeed sounds like an important and valuable example of how game simulations can be applied for non-game purposes.  His analysis also includes the what went right and what went wrong analysis often used for Gamasutra features.



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