It appears that yet another government agency is getting into MMO development (see my previous article). NASA recently announced their intentions to create an MMO aimed at high school and college level education, which would include a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. No specifics have been made as to who will be developing the game, but the requirements of a realistic physics engine will definitely make this an interesting addition to the MMO realm. Why would NASA be looking into MMO development in the first place? They give a very good answer in their FAQ:
“MMOs help players develop and exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly in demand by employers. These skills include strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, team-building and collaboration, and adaptation to rapid change.”
In the current anti-gaming political environment, it amazes me to see NASA come forward with this statement. It is about time the world at large sees that today’s youth is increasing its integration with technology everyday. Text messaging, MySpace, and YouTube are now becoming the preferred methods for communication and entertainment, foregoing traditional methods. With this in mind, NASA is looking to reshape online learning by making a virtual world for educators and business leaders to teach the skills needed in the real world:
“Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity – making it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems.”
The big question, is how popular would this type of environment be? I see no issue with the students being able to pick up the mechanics, as they are already knee deep in gaming, but trying to educate the educators how to use a virtual environment I feel will take time. However, coming up with attractive and engaging educational games within this world will be the main challenge. Even if they manage to provide the training and come up with the games, it will also be hard to implement this game into a curriculum.
A large collaborative project such as this has some precedent, but the scale at which this is being done, may dwarf all previous educational gaming attempts to date. It will be interesting to follow the development of this game and see where it is taken. See you at the virtual particle accelerator!