Teaching science through video games

Journal name:
Nature Chemistry
Volume:
9,
Pages:
97–102
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nchem.2694
Published online

Imagine a class without lessons, tests and homework, but with missions, quests and teamwork. Video games offer an attractive educational platform because they are designed to be fun and engaging, as opposed to traditional approaches to teaching through lectures and assignments.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Anatomy of a jetpack.
    Figure 1: Anatomy of a jetpack.

    a, The pathway a Polycraft player must navigate to obtain a jetpack. Players must convert natural resources (crude oil) to manufactured products using distillation, chemical synthesis and manufacturing. b, Crude oil can be obtained by building an oil derrick and placing it on special oil-containing blocks that the player must search out in the game. c, The crude oil collected must be refined and purified before it can be used as a fuel or a reagent for further chemical reactions. d, New inventories, similar to chemical processors, enable the players to use chemically accurate organic transformations to synthesize the fine chemicals needed to make the advanced polymers and rubbers required for a properly functioning jetpack. e, After working through the chemistry, the jetpack rewards players with new in-game capabilities such as the ability to observe the landscape from above and travel much more quickly. See http://go.nature.com/2hjb2l1 for the 'How to make a jetpack' video tutorial.

  2. The design of the Polycraft World wiki page is such that the game instructions (recipes) are intertwined with real scientific information such as chemically accurate reactions and conditions and clickable links.
    Figure 2: The design of the Polycraft World wiki page is such that the game instructions (recipes) are intertwined with real scientific information such as chemically accurate reactions and conditions and clickable links.

    a,b, Each wiki section (a) begins with chemical information and facts which leads to (b) instructions on how to make the item in the game. These reactions are representative of the real-life reaction (including balanced chemical equations). By starting with a desired object or molecule, and working backwards through the wiki to obtain recipes for each material needed to make it, the students and players are replicating the process of retrosynthetic analysis.

  3. Examples of approaches to teach and assess basic organic chemistry using in-game content.
    Figure 3: Examples of approaches to teach and assess basic organic chemistry using in-game content.

    a, The synthesis of p-phenylenediamine, a component of Kevlar, requires an understanding of how substituents affect the reactivity of aromatic rings. b, A Minecraft style interface for a test question from an organic chemistry exam at the University of Texas at Dallas.

References

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Affiliations

  1. Ronald A. Smaldone is in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, Dallas, Texas 75025, USA

  2. Christina M. Thompson is at the Honors College, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, Dallas, Texas 75025, USA

  3. Walter Voit is in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, Dallas, Texas 75025, USA

  4. Monica Evans is at the School of Arts Technology and Emerging Communication, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, Dallas, Texas 75025, USA

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