Oct 2006 - Volume 5 Issue 3
Learning With Games, Learning by Making Games

Editorial by Daniel Livingstone
University of Paisley

Welcome to this special issue of ITALICS on learning with games. The call for this issue was originally headed "Teaching Game Development and Game Development in Teaching ICT", and intended to focus very specifically on these two topics. These topics are somewhat distinct from the broader topic of digital games-based learning, GBL, which has been quite prominent in recent years. Specifically, GBL focuses on the educational potential inherent in playing games, as opposed to teaching students how to create them. Yet while it was not the original intention for this special issue, a number of such submissions were received, and in the end, two games-based learning papers were accepted.

Appropriately, our first paper (Flynn & Newbutt) includes a short review of games-based learning literature. It then outlines a plan to use a commercial game, The Movies, as support in teaching students the art of film-making. The authors have found that students often under-appreciate the vital pre-production stages of film development until it is too late. Even teaching students to employ story-boarding, an essential part of pre-production, has in recent years become a challenge. It is hoped that playing through, and discussing, the whole production process in The Movies will help boost students' appreciation.

In contrast Price details how a different commercial game, Unreal Tournament 2004, was modified for use in teaching physics. This game is only one of many modern games which includes easy third-party content addition and game modification as a feature. Using level design and scripting tools which are part of the commercial game, a number of interactive physics demonstrations were developed.

An important part of both works is their use of instructor led class discussion or evaluation to review the lessons learned in the classes. As Flynn and Newbutt point out in their literature review, it is not sufficient to leave students in front of a game and assume that they will learn. Reflection is an important part of the learning process, a point sometimes overlooked in discussions of games-based learning - where it is often assumed, without verification, that learning that occurs inside a game will naturally and automatically be transferred from the virtual to the real world.

Teaching of game development is now of broad interest across British universities, as the number of computer game technology courses has seen explosive growth over the past few years. As the number of students taking traditional computer science courses has been dropping sharply, these alternative courses have been booming. Courses vary in content, either focussing closely on one of software development, art and modelling or game design or trying to cover some blend of these topics.

Price, Colvin and Wright make use of the Skillset guidelines as a benchmark for their own progress towards creating a new computer games technology degree programme. Skillset is the sector skills council for the audio and visual arts, and their work with the industry has produced detailed suggestions for what industry relevant games courses should try to teach ( http://www.skillset.org/games ). The recollections on experience contained in the Price, Colvin and Wright paper may well prove useful to others hoping to introduce games development into the curriculum. With an iterative approach, introducing a small number of games related modules at a time, their experience may have been in many ways less traumatic than trying to start a new degree programme all at once.

In the next paper Edwards and Coulton also detail developments related to teaching game development. To help students gain industry relevant skills and experience, Lancaster University took the unusual step of setting up a commercial company whose aim it is to commercialise student created games and concepts. This gives students a greater insight into the industry than would otherwise be possible - as well as giving an opportunity to involve students in entrepreneurship while still at university. I am quite impressed by this work, and would certainly be quite happy were my own institution to follow this lead.

The final paper by Hobbs , Brown and Gordon combines elements of many of the themes of the special issue. They outline a proposed project to use a commercially available multi-user online world, Second Life, to support teaching and learning. Their paper focuses on a discussion of how virtual worlds may enhance the learning experience, leaving as an endnote their planned teaching topic - computer programming. This I think is potentially very exciting - as Second Life is perhaps unique in presenting a virtual world where players can write scripts in a C-like syntax to add behaviours to objects while inside the virtual space. I am aware that virtual worlds have been used before to present interactive programming lessons, but not ones which actually allow programming tasks to be carried out. I must confess that one reason for excitement is that as a resident of Second Life myself, I have already been witness to the potential it has - and am naturally excited to see others recognise that and care to write about it formally and academically.

Daniel Livingstone
School of Computing
University of Paisley

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