CAMBRIDGE CATALYST Issue 06 Web

GAMING SPECIAL

Mac Bowley, learning manager at Raspberry Pi, explains how video games can be a gateway to acquiring essential computer science skills – for all ages

t the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’ve made it our mission to put the power of computing

as long as they have been around. As video games became popular, during the 1980s, many games were only available as printed instructions in the programming language BASIC, which were included in computer magazines. Players had to enter the code line by line before they were able to play the game. This offered would-be computer scientists a framework for experimentation: keen gamers could try changing the code after typing it in, to see what would happen. The fun of the games allowed these young developers to build a passion for tinkering with computers that could turn into a career. Fast forward to today, almost everyone has played a video game of some kind, with many playing daily. They have become a part of our shared culture and, if you speak to young people and ask them what they want to do when they grow up, you would be surprised how many of them want to be involved in the games industry in some way – either as a developer, a journalist or even a gaming YouTuber (which is an actual job now). It therefore makes sense to use games as teaching tools for this new generation. Games make great teaching tools for two main reasons; they are engaging and they force you to model concepts in a computer system. Much of computer science involves modelling real world systems in a computational form. When you are playing computer games, you intuit the meaning of the modelled systems automatically. You know, for example, that the health that appears at the top of your screen is just a number, but you also know that it is a representation of your character’s wellbeing and when it reaches zero you

and digital making into the hands of people around the world. I work as an educator at Raspberry Pi, and because I studied video game design, I love creating lessons that guide learners through the process of making their own video game. Watching a learner take an idea for a game, turn it into a virtual reality and show it off to their friends is hugely enjoyable. To some, it can seem like a superpower: they are so used to playing games that getting to be on the other side is a real watershed moment for them. Humans are naturally adept at making games – watch any child play for a little while and you will see them spontaneously create rules and games to entertain themselves. Video games have been a gateway to computer science education for almost

will die. When creating video games, this process is reversed. You begin with the end goal – for example, gravity pulling objects towards the floor – and find a way to represent that in your game. This process is called modelling and applies to a huge range of computer science problems: the skills used to model things in games are transferable to other areas. Video games offer an engaging way to practise essential computer science skills. So what can we all do to take advantage of this? If you are a parent with young children who play games, you should talk to them about the games they are playing. Be curious yourself, and make sure they know it is an open invitation to share what they like about the game. Find out the models they are aware of and the strategies they are applying – you will find some strong computer science and problem-solving skills

As educators, we have to use games wisely. There is currently a bit of a backlash against games in educational resources, with some feeling that they alienate female students"

ISSUE 06 18

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