SETI bioastro: Fw: Cornell News: computer game design course

Date: Sat Dec 06 2003 - 22:01:02 PST

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    Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2003 12:29 PM
    Subject: Cornell News: computer game design course

    Computer Game Design Initiative at Cornell shows games are not just for playing

    FOR RELEASE: Dec. 1, 2003

    Contact: Bill Steele
    Office: 607-255-7164

    ITHACA, N.Y. -- Most parents -- and not a few teachers -- think
    computer games are a waste of time. David Schwartz, Cornell assistant
    professor of computer science, thinks they can be a powerful teaching
    tool -- especially if you get students interested in creating their

    So Schwartz, aided by Rajmohan Rajagopalan, Cornell instructor in
    computer science, and Rama Hoetzlein, who graduated from Cornell in
    2001 with a dual major in computer science and fine art, is teaching
    an experimental course in computer game design. The course is part of
    an overall plan Schwartz calls the Computer Game Design Initiative.
    He hopes that game design eventually can become a tool to interest
    high school and elementary school students in science and technology,
    while teaching a little physics, writing and other skills along the

    Members of the public will be able to play games created in the
    course at an open house Wednesday, Dec.10, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in 319
    Upson Hall (the Computer Science Undergraduate Lab) on the Cornell
    campus. This semester's projects involve several multi-player
    networked games, strategy- and arcade-style games and demonstrations
    of technology used to create games. Along with traditional
    role-playing and spaceship-combat games, students have created an
    electronic version of Foosball and the whimsical "Nuts of Justice 2"
    -- the project's first sequel game -- which pits squirrel against

    The interdisciplinary course, Introduction to Computer Game Design,
    includes nearly 50 students in computer science, art, engineering,
    music and English, who work in teams to design real games. Part 1 of
    the course includes classroom work covering an overview of the game
    industry and social aspects of game-playing, leading up to the
    creation of a game. Part 2 is all game-building. Part 1 and Part 2
    run concurrently each semester.Most students earn three credits,
    although a few who join in briefly to create music and art for the
    games may receive fewer credits. This year, for the first time, team
    participants include four high-school apprentices from Ithaca's
    Learning Web, along with community volunteers.

    Schwartz uses "People like games" as a catchphrase. "And in creating
    games," he says, "you have to learn programming and some physics
    about the way objects move. You have to write a story for the game.
    Later the students have to create a technical report, so there's
    technical writing practice."

    A few universities have courses in game design, Schwartz says. What's
    different here, he says, is the interdisciplinary approach, bringing
    in students from several colleges to contribute art, music and
    programming. The current course is a prototype with funding from the
    General Electric Foundation. Schwartz has been teaching the course in
    various forms for five semesters and will continue it in its present
    experimental status through the spring. Then he is proposing to offer
    it as a "real" course starting next summer and continuing in the fall
    of 2004. He expects some skepticism from his colleagues, but he
    points out that gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, and
    preparing students for careers in that industry makes as much sense
    as teaching acting or cinema.

    If he can find funding, Schwartz hopes to send teams of his students
    out to local public schools to teach game design, even offering
    simple approaches in pre-K and elementary schools. "Kids love games,"
    he says, varying his catchphrase. "This is something we can
    capitalize on. Most of the educational research involves applying a
    particular game in a topic area. We propose to allow the children to
    pitch their own ideas, which should help motivate them to learn."

    The plan includes a special initiative to interest girls. Women are
    still underrepresented in computer science, and Schwartz says
    research indicates that they get turned off on computers somewhere
    around fourth grade, possibly because computer games tend to
    emphasize guns and violence. "We'll find women students who'd be
    interested in paying jobs to teach game design, and have them work
    with teams of young girls," he explains.

    He also hopes to work with sociologists and psychologists to study
    such questions as how the content of games affects players. "We can
    give them games with a 'knob' that lets them turn the violence up or
    down, to watch the effect," he suggests.

    Previews of games to be shown at the open house, along with games
    created in previous semesters, are available for downloading from the
    course Web site at <>.


    The web version of this release may be found at

    Cornell University News Service
    Surge 3
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, NY 14853

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