Introduction to the Summer Projects: Lerpz Behaves

lerpz_jumpNearly all of the undergrads working in my lab this summer have completed a design for their game, tested the game mechanics using paper prototypes, and are heading into digital production. The first of these games is what actually pushed our lab into coding digital games. From day one, this student expressed a desire to learn programming, and the temporal dynamics of her game made it difficult to implement as a board game. A digital game was a logical choice, but we were concerned about the amount of time it would take to produce the game. To keep the project from stalling, we decided to modify an existing tutorial for the Unity3d game engine “Lerpz Escapes.” The creation of visual assets and animations is extremely time consuming and involves specialized artistic skills. Consequently, “modding” an existing game is a great way of saving time. The original game from the Unity tutorial is a 3D platformer where the main character, Lerpz, needs to collect 20 fuel cells to unlock a spaceship to escape his captors. Our student designer wanted to develop a game to teach people about operant conditioning. Consequently, we will mod the game to provide opportunities for the user to shape the behavior of the main character as he completes various tasks in the virtual world. The project abstract and attached poster provide a more detailed view of the project:

Inexperienced parents may have difficulty encouraging desirable behaviors in their children. Even though applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is widely used in education and healthcare to shape the behaviors of healthy and developmentally challenged children, many young parents are not offered formal training in ABA. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, who are generally knowledgeable about ABA, also have problems encouraging verbal expression in their children because the child’s internal desire to communicate is difficult to identify. Game-based learning is known to be effective for teaching lessons that require practice. Consequently, we developed a game where potential parents could learn and practice ABA. Relative to text-based methods of teaching ABA, it is predicted that game-based methods will result in better retention of core ABA concepts. Volunteers from the York College Research Subjects Pool will play a video game presented in a web browser. In the game, players will apply ABA to a character that needs to complete tasks in the game world. The character will display desirable and undesirable behaviors along the way. Players will be required to shape the character’s behavior to complete the tasks. Game mechanics will be used to promote player engagement, sustain attention, and facilitate learning. Control subjects will spend an equivalent time with the core concepts of ABA in a web browser, but with no game mechanics. If game mechanics demonstrate improved learning relative text-based methods, we will broadly distribute the game to universities across the country.

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