Magy Seif El-Nasr
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Assistant Professor
School of Information Sciences & Technology
Pennsylvania State University


Learning through Game Modding
Individual Presentation, Friday (9:00 - 10:30) in Hall of Ideas F

Statement of Interest

Some researchers have suggested that designing and implementing games can lead to deeper forms of learning than simply playing games created by others. Learner design efforts may benefit from the increasing number of computational engines that allow users to customize and expand game behaviors. We seek to understand how modifying, or modding, existing games can lead to various forms of learning.


Game design can be a powerful motivator for learning complex skills. For instance, studies of elementary school children who designed educational games suggested that programming could be a medium for personal and creative expression as well as helping learners develop informal notions of mathematical and computational formalisms (Harel, 1991; Kafai, 1994). Learning by designing provides opportunities to engage in rich problem solving activities that resemble those of expert game designers.

Unfortunately, designing and implementing games is a daunting task. Building games with high-level computer languages requires a great deal of work unrelated to game play, and simpler authoring tools often fail to provide the realism that learners see in modern video games. Fortunately, designers began abstracting their games from the underlying engines that handle graphical rendering, camera control, lighting and so. These engines allow games to be modified, and communities of players now routinely alter and share modded games with others. Modding also involves some degree of learning, but the overhead of tweaking these game engines is significantly less than other options, especially if the goal is to produce products that resemble current, commercial games. More so, we believe that modding can lead to opportunities to learn by designing.


Our session will describe the types of learning that can occur while modding games, e.g., computer programming, mathematics, physics, artificial intelligence, and software engineering. We will present these ideas through case studies of high school and college students' modding in classroom settings and qualitative analyses of what they learned by creating working demonstrations of video games. We will focus on the curricular activities designed to ease the complexity of modding game engines and discuss difficulties that emerged during the courses. Student comments on the degree of effort required to work with different game engines will also be presented, as those have helped us to understand how to design modding exercises that promote learning of various domain skills. In the end, we hope to promote a new direction for research, in particular promote the research in the design and development of tools that can emphasize learning by modding.


Harel, I. (1991). Children designers: Interdisciplinary constructions for learning and knowing mathematics in a computer-rich school. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
Kafai, Y. B. (1994). Minds in play: Computer game design as a context for children's learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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