Sunday, September 9, 2012

Video Games, for Science!

If my childhood was any example then I spent many hours developing the dexterity of my thumbs and the ability to plan any number of jumps across moving platforms floating in mid-air while collecting golden coins. But for some reason none of that got on my resume. Is there any way to make video games actually educational?

Today's New York Times has a profile of Valve, makers of the video games Half-Life and Portal. Portal I can vouch for as a video game good enough that it's worth playing even with my first-person-perspective motion sickness. ("Portal: Worth the Headache").  Portal has such a detailed physics engine behind it, and such simple controls, that you can use it to teach physics. This article links to lots more articles about how that can be done, for instance, turning Portal's cube into a harmonic oscillator. Maybe someday one of the required texts for physics will be a copy of Portal?

Video games can be used to teach immunology, too, although the case of Immune Attack is different because gameplay follows education, and it's clear that results in a different kind of game.

I didn't know just how unusual (that is, absent) Valve's corporate structure is. It's fascinating that they can get that to work to make these great games.

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