When I was in school, I loved science. In fact, I even studied it for a while before making the fiscally responsible decision to become a starving artist. A major part of my science-y childhood came from re-runs of “The Magic Schoolbus” and any education computer games I could find, but none of that really translated once I hit high school (and let’s admit it, that’s when it really starts getting difficult). Well, Seattle based artists, animators, and game designers Laura Lynn Gonzalez, Blair Lyons, and Rachel Bajema, are hoping to change all that with a brand new 3D exploration game for the Kinect.
“We’re designing it to be an open ended exploratory platform. The first fully active environment is inside an animal cell. The user will be able to explore around the cell, and explore the different processes,” explained Gonzalez. “It will be free play, where you can explore all around with the Kinect, but there will also be little mini-games.” These mini-games, five in all, will allow the user to not only interact with, but actually participate in, some of the processes occurring within the cell. These include games in which you have to match up base pairs, or assist a protein in finding a specific gene to code, among others, all of which would be played using the Microsoft Kinect interface either through an Xbox or computer.
According to Gonzalez, she and her partners are using the Kinect in hopes that the game will not only help high school students apply what they’ve learned in class, but will fill a void left in the curriculum. “We think the Kinect is really fun … It has the potential to engage a kinesthetic learner. That’s what they mean by hands on. Our goal is to really have a true kinesthetic tool.” And teachers seem to agree. The feedback they’ve received from educators so far has been very positive. According to reviews on their Kickstarter page, teachers believe that the game is not only a great way to engage a hands on learner, but also to engage kids in a way that only the newest and greatest technology can, and that, says Gonzalez, is half the battle. “The difference between modern video games and educational video games is astronomical … the quality of the entertainment they have is insanely superior to what they have in the classroom. The idea is to make something that is going to compete with mainstream media for their attention.”
The challenge for the team, of course, lies not only in making the game equal parts fun and educational, but in financing the design and testing of the game itself. For that, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising enough money to complete the project, and get it into the hands of educators at several local schools. They’re hoping to partner with at least five schools in order to beta test the game throughout its development. Portions of the $27.5k goal will go toward game production, paying the design team, and outfitting those schools with a copy of the game, and the equipment to test it. Like all Kickstarter campaigns, theirs offers several great perks to contributors, including copies of the game, t-shirts, original oil paintings, and Gonzalez’s personal favorite, a digital book filled with game art and animations, all created by the game’s artists. “I think the book is going to be a nice little app to have, but its going to be huge beautiful pictures that will look great on the iPad.” When I asked Gonzalez why they decided to use the crowdfunding platform, she said that it was a much better option for them than going after major investors or grants. “You’re still held accountable, because you have to keep updating and engaging with your backers,” she added. “but it’s much more feasible as a small team.”
No word yet on a release date for the game, but rest assured, you will be able to purchase a copy once it comes out (though you could pre-order one now over at Kickstarter). And this is not the end for the Seattle based team. There’s some talk of plans to expand the game to include other scientific subjects, like Chemistry and Engineering, but that is, of course, a conversation for the future.
To learn more about the game, see a demonstration, or contribute to its development, visit the Kickstarter page.