Game-based learning is one of the fastest-growing trends in education today. Games like Minecraft have popularized the idea of allowing students to learn by playing “sandbox” games that put students in control of every detail of the world that they create and explore. By giving students opportunities to receive immediate feedback on the consequences of their choices in games, students can begin to develop a sense of cause-and-effect, interpreting the rules of the game and adapting their strategies to meet the goals that they themselves set. For example, check out Lucas Gillispie’s work on Minecraft in School.
As a result of both this trend and the burgeoning gaming community, new games are being launched and developed faster than the education community can apply them to the classroom. Take, for instance, Kerbal Space Program (KSP). In KSP, players are in charge of their own program to explore and colonize outer space using their workers known as kerbals. Players can design and develop their own rockets, which they can then launch into space to see how their designs affect the success of their mission. The physics engine in the game is remarkably true to life, as it allows students to explore aspects of Physics that they would not otherwise be able to directly manipulate in the real world. KSP has both a sandbox mode for students who would like to set their own space mission goals and a career mode with a limited budget for students who need a little more structure.
KSP allows for players to create and share modifications to the game, known in the gaming community as “mods”. These mods allow players to design, develop, and share their ideas for how to change the way players interact with the game (like building a space station) or simply give them more options in developing their own ships. Mods can be used as a launching point for a coding class, giving students the opportunity to create and share their own mods with the community.
While KSP is still considered an “Early Access” game — that is, the full version hasn’t been officially launched yet — there is a free demo available through their website (https://kerbalspaceprogram.com/demo.php) and through Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/220200/). To illustrate the potential for games like KSP, I will leave you with a product review from Steam user Nathan * MountainDew. Happy exploring!
1st hour playing: WHAT DO I DO WHY IS IT BLOWING UP
400th hour playing: If my calculations serve me right with this T/W ratio It will take me 1 minute 43 seconds to burn at my periapsis to reach duna insertion at which point I will get into an eliptical equatoral orbit and perform an aerobrake at 16km to get into a steady circular orbit and then I will descend with one of my 4 spaceplanes I took to go to the north pole at which I will set up base at my already existing rover while getting TAC resources to monitor life support and make sure my colony of 212 kerbals can live.