Computer Games Classroom

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Computer Games in the Classroom: A History and Brief Review of the Research John W. Rice Texas Center for Educational Technology University of North Texas

Paper presented at emPowering the Future, Texas Center for Educational Technology Higher Education Cadres Conference, Denton, TX.

COMPUTER GAMES 2 Abstract Computer video games are derived from a broad range of related fields, including virtual reality, simulations, and synchronous computerized communications. This paper will examine origins of each field and how they converged in the study of computer video games. The paper will then offer a brief review of the research illustrating the investigation of computer video game applications in the field of education, and conclude by finding areas of need for current and future research.

COMPUTER GAMES 3 Computer Games in the Classroom: A History and Brief Review of the Research Computer video games as defined here are games played out graphically within a computing environment. They share characteristics with home console games. Consoles are technically also types of computers, but most people differentiate games designed for personal computers as computer video games. Consoles will be mentioned briefly in the history section as they are a related topic. Interest in applying computer video games to educational purposes has piqued in recent years as the abilities for games to simulate complex phenomena has increased along with personal computing power. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the developmental history of computer video games, briefly look at some of the current research efforts in the field, and to discern fundamental questions remaining to be explored. History Ideas about Information All computer concepts, including games, are based on earlier ones surrounding information retrieval and manipulation. Notions of information residing in an abstract space for the purpose of future retrieval derive from the ancient Greek poet Simonides, the first to develop “memory palaces,” or mental knowledge maps resembling physical structures (Johnson, 1997). The idea that a physical machine could produce an infinite amount of information based upon finite input was theorized (with a failed attempt at implementation) by Charles Babbage in the 19th Century. His machines were conceived as advanced computational devices. Babbage stated he could tap the infinite measure of time within a finite mechanism in order to solve any number of problems (Gershenfeld, 1999). This idea is a key one, and proved fundamental in the development of digital computing, and later complex computer games.

COMPUTER GAMES 4 The modern example of an information retrieval device most researchers point to as seminal is found in an essay published near the conclusion of World War II by Vannevar Bush (Shenk, 1997). Bush outlined a device he called the “Memex” which could sort through reams of electronic text (microfilm, as Bush envisioned it at the time). Foreshadowing hypertext, Bush stipulated his machine, built into a desk, could allow researchers unprecedented access to the world’s libraries and let them keep permanent records of their searches (Bush, 1945). Video Games The first documented mating of computers to electronic graphical output for the purpose of playing a game occurred in 1958 at Brookhaven National Laboratory. A facility devoted to peaceful applications of nuclear energy, Brookhaven held open house events every year allowing public tours of the facilities. Using spare parts, a government physicist named Higinbotham hooked up an oscilloscope to one of the lab’s computers, and programmed a simple ballbouncing tennis simulation. Players watched the four-inch round screen while using two paddlewheels to control the ball, simulating a tennis match viewed from the side at mid-court. The simple diversion proved very popular at two Brookhaven open house events in 1958 and 1959....
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