In one of today's main Gamasutra features, at Serious Games Summit in Washington DC on Monday, Bryan Barnett from Microsoft Research's lecture asked, "Can games help to reinvigorate Computer Science and ensure the future health of the discipline and the technology industry?" Barnett then went on to discuss game-related courses that could help train university computer scientists.
In this extract, Barnett explains the problem and Microsoft's thinking on it:
"So, how do games fit into [the overall problem]? Well, Barnett pointed out to the audience, which included a number of university professors: "We all know of [computer science] students, particularly young men, who get started gaming." In fact, the majority of students have experience of being able to change parameters or other attributes in games. Thus, it's believed that game-related learning may be a way to stave off the precipitous decline in entry to computer science departments - overall enrolments are now down near a level last seen in the 1970s, and the amount of women attracted to the discipline is "less than dismal," according to Barnett. Worse than this, there is also a high attrition level, with 10 to 20 percent of students dropping out each year.
Microsoft and Barnett are particularly focusing on introductory courses, since there are plenty of first-year challenges, and many focus groups feel that initial courses have too much math, too much strange syntax, and impel people too quickly into confusing programming environments. For those who haven't written a program, it feels very abstract, and Barnett even quipped of his company's own product: "Visual Studio for a [first-year] student is simply torture by another name." When you write executable code and the machine does it, it's a very empowered sense."
You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject
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