By ZACH MACORMAC, For The Times Leader
Video games represent billions of dollars each year in the global market. That may come as no surprise to some, as some games can challenge the sharpest of minds with a seemingly impossible puzzle, guide a fantasy nut through an epic journey or provide a unique way for people to interact.
From the most primitive games of the late 1970s to the nearly lifelike renderings today, some groups have viewed this form of entertainment as a bane in society. However, others see it as a tool for skill building and education.
THIS?SCREEN Shot from MoonWorld depicts the three dimensional environment where kids can enjoy the thrill of gaming with the benefits of a quality educational experience.
So what role does video gaming have in our society and what skills can be learned from them?
Debbie Denise Reese is the senior educational researcher for "Cyberlearning through Game-based, Metaphor Enhanced Learning Objects" - or CyGaMEs, based in the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University. Reese and her team are seeking to design an approach to creating instructional games that will provide results in users. Her research is anticipated for completion in summer 2013.
Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, CyGaMEs has been developing and testing "Selene: A Lunar Construction GaME," and "MoonWorld." Both are being developed under the package name "MoonGazers." using knowledge contributed by planetary scientist Charles Wood.
Selene challenges its user to build a moon by a "slingshot" method to send rocks into other rocks and form a moon as those rocks become bound by gravity. A number of factors guided by user interaction will determine whether it will be successful. Once the moon is made, the user then can blast it with space rocks to create the cratered moon surface.
MoonWorld allows "realistic" surface exploration of the Moon to collect rocks and examine findings while surviving the harsh environment. Users are enabled to work in teams online or over a network to collaborate on goals.
However, the games have an underlying motive. Behind the scenes, the game gathers digital data that measures how quickly users learn the gameplay and how interested they are as they progress. She found that an interested and engaged player will try time and again to do a puzzle correctly until successful.
"MoonGazers" also taught various known facts about the Moon and its formation. To determine its effectiveness in including it in the game, Reese tested two groups on the material - one that would play the game and one that would read a text. First, she gave them a test before the material and found both groups scored about the same. After playing or reading, each group took the same test again. She found the group that played the game scored somewhat higher.
"We're designing an approach to instructional games with great results," Reese said, noting their findings could be used by producers to design their own games.
Though a breakthrough in educational gaming could be on the horizon, pleasure gaming remains at the top of the gaming world.
Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, a psychology professor at WJU, and a group of undergraduates have done extensive studies into the role of video games.
Among those studies, Nintendo Wii users were more likely to choose healthy snacks while playing motion games. Another study found that subjects experiencing pain can use video games to distract from it.
He observed that people with disabilities or impairments can use video games to experience things they could not otherwise do. Also, he said those with behavioral issues might be able to redirect emotions into the games provided they are mature enough to distinguish the content from reality.
"There are student clubs that network people together to talk about games and strategize," said one of Raudenbush's undergraduates, Kristen McCombs, on online gaming.
She said this role could garner teamwork and group strategy skills. Raudenbush added, however, the anonymity found in playing online games with strangers may not fetch such skill-building.