The Science of Video Games

(originally published in Word Vietnam, January 2015)

“The ‘edutainment’ model has come a long way since the days of the flawed-science-flaunting seen in Star Wars (there’s no sound in space, duh). "

The GameLAB project started off as a science video game-making collaboration between Fact & Fiction Films, Wellcome Trust UK and the Oxford Clinical Research Unit — a large-scale clinical and public health research unit based at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases of both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. From there it sprawled — to the point that Fact & Fiction partner Nick Fernandez was dressed up as a giant furry antibody at a recent event at the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Culture House.

Now they’re getting started with the really fun stuff.

On Jan. 23, they’re renting a villa in Ho Chi Minh City and packing it with scientists and game programmers, and extending an open invite to local game enthusiasts. Once 6pm on the Friday rolls around, the creativity starts. From there, you might never look at malaria the same way again.


High Concept

What they’re aiming for is the type of unique collaboration that the Wellcome Trust has already stewarded in London, engaging Vietnamese scientists to work together with game designers on ideas that are educational and entertaining. And the ‘edutainment’ model has come a long way since the days of the flawed-science-flaunting seen in Star Wars (there’s no sound in space, duh). Nowadays we have Neil Degrasse Tyson critiquing the science in Gravity, and science games actually sell… well, at least the ones with minimally realistic zombies in them.

The scientists will provide the scientific concepts, while the game designers will invoke the Candy Crush gods in pursuit of a game people will actually play. And that’s what we’ll be on hand for — getting a first look at the games of science future.

In March and April, the finished products will be rolled out, with public events at “key youth venues” and shopping centres around Ho Chi Minh City, and a presence online.

All this aims to connect the two things teens do with their lives — go to school and play with technology. As the press release says, “We believe that it’s possible to create truly engaging games that are based on truly important science. With such strong links to technology, there is a natural synergy between science and gaming, which is something we will fully take advantage of.”

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