Using Strategy Games (FTL) to Teach Science

I have to admit that the topic of copyright did not grab my attention in the least.  I dragged myself through most of the readings before acknowledging that it just isn’t something I’m going to really care much about, or attempt to write much about.  I have used compfight and johnjohnston for years, and my course Moodle pages are closed to anyone outside of my courses–so I feel like I don’t really actually interact with copyright very often.  That being said, this post attempts to use fair use image, as well as images bearing the creative commons license, with adequate credit given.

Photo Credit: Tom Lawrence via Compfight cc Gaming is a new type of social interaction

Photo Credit: Tom Lawrence via Compfight cc
Gaming is a new type of social interaction

So onto something I really, really enjoy: Games.  My students, particularly my male students, are also incredibly engaged with gaming–and I hope that I will be able to leverage their passion for gaming to help them understand science.  At this point, it’s a far stretch, and it may do nothing more than improve rapport–you should see the excitement on a 9th grader’s face when his teacher can actually comiserate about losing to the 3rd level boss.

I like all kinds of games–especially complex games that bring in elements of history, science,  living systems or outer space.   I tend to enjoy resource management games, where there is no ‘magic bullet’ strategy, and a player must keep resorting to Plan B (and C….and….).   Board games such as Agricola, San Jose, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Cataan. Card games such as Magic The Gathering, Killer Bunnies, and

Photo Credit: magoexperto via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: magoexperto via Compfight cc Complex strategies, cost-benefit analysis, options-thinking: It’s all part of gaming!

Munchkin. And most recently, computer games such as FTL (“Faster Than Light”), Spore, Portal, Kerbal Space Program and The Talos Principal.  Some of my most impressive students are clearly way, way into games, and some of the pre-existing knowledge they come to class with was clearly learned from gaming.

In an attempt to narrow the focus of this post, I’ll stick to my most recent obsession:FTL. Faster Than Light is one of those games that seems sort of silly on the surface–the sort of plot that a very small percentage of the population would enjoy. Your usual geek-fest of saving the galaxy from

FTL is available on iPad, or through the Steam game engine on PC or Mac.  Author's photo.

FTL is available on iPad, or through the Steam game engine on PC or Mac. Author’s photo.

rebels.  The plot is certainly not the selling point.

But lying under the surface of it’s semi-retro graphics lies some seriously impressive complexity. I am really glad there is no way to track how many hours I have spent playing this game (I now have it on both iPad and laptop….), but lets just say it is probably more hours than I would publicly post!


Mastering this

Image author's own.  FTL demands dozens of decisions per minute.

Image author’s own. FTL demands dozens of decisions per minute.

game requires an enormous amount of time, but I honestly believe it is a very rich and cognitively challenging experience, and it is fun right from the first minute.

I am interested in how I can use games to teach science–in particular, chemistry. The more I play this game, the more concepts I can seeconnecting.

I would like to try introducing the examples above, and then ask students if they can find other examples of  analogies between a situation or a function in a game, and a concept of chemistry.  The most obvious problem with this plan is that, while some students are rabid gamers, the majority of students probably don’t really care much about this kind of game, and certainly aren’t familiar enough with the game to really zoom out and see the ‘meta-concepts’ that start to become clear after (too much) time.  If nothing else, I believe this experience has strengthened my belief that gaming can be a productive way to stretch your brain, interact with others in unique ways, and grasp abstract concepts in a different context than ‘real life’.


14 Responses

  1. Interesting thoughts, Ryan. I’ve never played this myself, but you offer a convincing review! I just picked up the book, “Ready Player One” this week. Have you read that?

    We’ll be delving much deeper into Gamification in Course 4 so that’ll be right up your alley!

  2. Great, this is what I was searching for in yahoo

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  5. If you are using strategy games (FTL) to teach science entry box which would show the game title and everything then really no one is going. The simple fact is that it would be giving credit to the people who did the (FTL) game as well, and uploading it like that is not going to be any attempt to profit from their play.

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