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Starlight Explorers creator Stephen Duhurst talks about using games for learning

Aaccording to UCAS, only 35 per cent of STEM students (science, technology, engineering and math) in the UK are women. This is a humiliating gender gap, and the industry has identified several reasons why this is the case, from the lack of role models for women to overt sexism in universities and the workplace.

How Wired Identifies, deep-seated sexism further leads to the fact that young women lack the confidence to join the STEM field. For Stephen Duhurst, this is a problem that, in his opinion, can be partially solved through games. A neuroscientist who became a game developer, Duhurst has worked in companies throughout the gaming industry – including a rather recent job in Amazon.

“It’s interesting to remember your time at Amazon because it’s hard to be upset about it,” says Duherst. “I’ve learned a lot and my career has done really amazing, amazing things. I met a lot of people and I started working on a product that I really liked and that could be amazing. ”

The product in question Cruciblea sci-fi shooter that Amazon Game Studios closed in 2020 CrucibleDuherst says that “lately it’s pretty obvious – and honestly at the time it was pretty obvious – that this project will fail and that Amazon isn’t a great place to create games because, in fact, their executive leadership is a lot the arrogance that comes from being very successful in a bunch of piles of stuff. ”

Crucible. Credit: Tireless games

“There was a lot [meetings] where I remember how the executives responded that at the time we were just “it’s wildly wrong”. Although Duherst says that Crucible the team was “phenomenal,” he says, Amazon’s “draconian workplace policy” prevented him from developing his talents the way he wanted, and he eventually left “for several reasons”.

Rewind to today. Far from science fiction violence CrucibleDewhurst is now working on Starlight researchers – An easy game about using physics to map stars. Although Duherst openly talks about how much he learned while working at Amazon, he says the idea is for Starlight researchers bounced for a while.

«Starlight actually has a really weird story. To Amazon before MicrosoftI was in the DTC, which is a graduate program at Carnegie Mellon, and it’s a very exciting and exciting experience. ”

“My last semester I was assigned to a project sponsored by the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. They had a summer program called Click Spy Academy, reminiscent of a summer camp for teenage girls on “Mission Impossible,” which tried to get them more involved in STEM areas. But going to this camp was very expensive, and running this camp was very expensive, so the total number was 30 girls a summer or something – not enough to really make an impact. ”

Starlight researchers.  Credit: Dire Kitten Games.
Starlight researchers. Credit: Dire Kitten Games.

“So they came up with the idea,‘ If we digitize this into an online experience, we can theoretically provide that service to thousands and thousands of young women and really achieve their goals much more than a personal camp. Our goal was to gain that experience [and] post it online as much as we could. “

For Duherst, who was the project manager, this meant using the team’s limited resources to create the game.

“Our team consisted of two engineers, an artist and five designers, which is not the right team,” Duherst laughed. “And so, as a design manager, I looked at it and said,‘ Okay, designers, you’re all going to have different mini-games, and your job is to make all your mini-games have to be very small in features and very heavy on content – you need to be able to ask an engineer to do it for you in about a week ”because we don’t have the engineering resources to go around”.

“Until now, I have done little programming in my life [but] it became clear that even with such a strategy the engineering business was simply wildly postponed. A game that was mine – that became Starlight researchers “In the end, I just took over the engineering part of it and just built it.”

Starlight researchers.  Credit: Dire Kitten Games.
Starlight researchers. Credit: Dire Kitten Games.

Thus began the early roots Starlight researcherswhich – much later – began on Steam in 2021. Although Duherst was walking down a winding path to get to it, chances are Starlight Explorers wouldn’t have seen the world if they hadn’t gone that route.

“I wouldn’t have made this game,” says Duherst, who adds that he is more of a fan of strategy games and casual shooters. “By itself, I would never have thought that I was going to go outside and do a physical exercise machine that teaches young women a little astrophysics. I was actually a neurologist before I became a game designer, so it’s in my wheelhouse, it’s just not something I wouldn’t think of doing. ”

“I am a very careful person. When I left ETC, I had a lot of friends who [said] “You’re really good at design, you should set up an indie studio.” For me, it’s always been like … why do I think it will work? I do not have a resume for this – I am a very smart designer, that is, a successful game? Probably not, it sounds risky! ”

For Duherst, who says so Starlight researchers “Made it a little worse” than he expected, raking in profits he wouldn’t have measured his success – in fact, Ducherst would have given it away for free if it meant getting it in more hands and benefiting.

Starlight researchers.  Credit: Dire Kitten Games.
Starlight researchers. Credit: Dire Kitten Games.

“If there was a way to introduce this into a bunch of school systems as a free thing where young women could have access to it, it would be weird – I’d love it. [but] I don’t know how to do it. I am very committed to the same goal, finding out the demographics of STEM ”.

Finding out how to do it with games is hard. Ducherst says games designed as educational have “so many obstacles,” one of which is people who see the label and prefer to play the “real game”. This is where Duherst’s experience as a neurologist intervenes.

“You can trick the brain into doing different things – and some of them are bad! But some of them are wonderful and I think so Starlight is a good example. Starlight does not teach you to be an astrophysicist, but teaches you basic orbital mechanics, and if you really pay attention, it teaches you some very subtle things, such as the visual effects that make up stars, change color depending on size, and [that’s] right. There is a bit of education, but that’s not the point. The thing is, someone had an astrophysics experience in which they were put in the role of an astrophysicist, and they felt like they were really good at it, and they were rewarded for being really good at it – and they felt it [are] cool people in this space ”.

Instead of cramming Starlight researchers with educational content, Duhurst says he hopes players will pick up a few more common themes, namely “science is interesting, there are cool people like you who are engaged in science, you can be very successful in this.”

Offworld trading company
Offworld Trading Company, credit: Stardock Entertainment

Duherst’s approach – hiding the educational aspect in multiple layers under really addictive gameplay – he loved to see elsewhere. Pointing at Offworld trading company, Duherst says he likes how the game “teaches you a bunch of things about colonization” without making it the center of attention. Similarly, Dewhurst believes other games may make some notes.

“Here’s my slightly naughty view of it: I think more games can definitely do that. If you look at something like Mass Effect – which has different goals, I won’t blame the team – but Mass Effect could have done it in a way that was not. [Mass Effect] there are a bunch of things where you land on planets and find deposits, but they mean nothing to you. In any case, a lot of them are just fictional – it should not have been! They could incorporate more orbital mechanics or real science into these storylines. ”

Thanks to this approach, Duhurst believes that the gaming industry could really push for games to become a force for positive change.

Starlight researchers
Starlight researchers. Credit: Dire Kitten Games.

“My first memorable gaming experience was the game Planetscape Torment in the 90s. In this game there are some really interesting things that can be said about the moral of murder! I remember reading a bunch of that dialogue and thinking it was kind of awful, but it’s not. The fact is that if someone had thrown me a Nietzsche book at that age, I don’t know if I would have read a lot of philosophy. But to have this cool story with these cool characters in this cool art and want to win, I think that’s a big part, right? Like, I want to get better at this, I have to be successful: you just take it all in. “

«Starlight it’s a small project, but it’s very built with such love. I don’t know how many people will play or have access to it, but I hope we’ve achieved our goal of doing a thing that will have a good run so you feel you can be successful, and [it] has cool characters that you want to be like … and has that skill curve where you want to keep playing it, you want to get into it, because that’s what you can achieve. ”

About encouraging players to study some subjects deeper – astrophysics, for example Starlight researchers – Duherst says that games can be “super effective” because “they are fun and motivating.”

Civilization VI
Civilization VI. Credit: 2K Games / Firaxis Games

“I played 700 hours Civilization and I learned about these five ancient buildings that I would not have otherwise learned. And if you look at it from a school standpoint, it’s awful! You probably shouldn’t go to school for a semester just to learn what the Eiffel Tower is. This is bad. But games can be an amazing reinforcement mechanism because that’s what people want to do anyway. For me, it’s all about the curiosity aspect – I wouldn’t teach educational things more clearly in games, but especially since you can link things so much that you have to notice them, and interesting enough that you can pull Wikipedia onto your other monitor , I think awesome! You are not trying to replace education, you are just trying to take this amazing free time and give it this bonus – you have learned things! ”

Although Starlight researchers has not reached as many people as Ducherst had hoped – a problem with Steam that requires a minimum number of user reviews, meaning it is not advertised as often as it should – it has not canceled out the positive reception of the game.

“I have an employee who has a couple of little daughters, who I think are seven and three. He is a great friend and helped me alpha test things. He knows it’s aimed at this demographic, so he made them play [Starlight Explorers]. A couple of weeks after I sent him a test copy, I was with him at a work meeting at Zoom, and he kept distracted, looking down and saying “no, not now”. These two little girls pop up and say, “When will your meeting end? When can we play a space game? ”

If you also want to play a “space game”, Starlight researchers there is available on Steam – and if you like it, why not leave a review?



Starlight Explorers creator Stephen Duhurst talks about using games for learning

Source link Starlight Explorers creator Stephen Duhurst talks about using games for learning

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