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US Tech Enables Digital Gaming Fabrication

Image credits: news.mit.edu

A group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a new system to teach computational making that allows kids to fabricate their favourite characters straight from digital games to re-imagine the learning pipeline in the pursuit of keeping students interested, inspired, and empowered.

“So, we thought to ourselves, what if, while playing these games and interacting with the digital objects and characters, kids can fabricate them to interact with them in the physical world and learn fabrication and maker skills along the way?” asks Dishita Turakhia, MIT PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science and an affiliate of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

One of the most important aspects of teaching young children is keeping them engaged, interested, and inspired, and the challenge was to reimagine how digital fabrication can be introduced and educate them in a fun and playful way.

As children already engage with a plethora of digital objects and characters, the researchers devised a novel approach that combines teaching fabrication with a video game. As a result, these young learners can play their favourite engaging games and fabricate game objects with which they may have personal connections.

However, putting this vision of teaching fabrication through games into action presents two major challenges. The first challenge is converting existing digital games into fabrication games without open access to the source code of the game and the second challenge is to create fabrication files for the desired game objects without having access to the game’s repositories or asset files.

These challenges were addressed by the researchers by developing a toolkit called FabO and employing computer vision algorithms for object detection, segmentation, and extraction.

By bringing game objects from their gameplay into the physical world, this idea of designing fabrication games for learning can personalise the maker-skill learning experience for young learners in an engaging and meaningful way.

The researchers conducted an exploratory study in which they invited participants to use FabO to convert their favourite existing video games into fabrication games. The characteristics of 47 fabricated objects from 33 different games that the participants chose to modify into fabrication games using FabO were then examined.

According to the analysis, this concept not only allowed us to merge the two worlds of virtual gaming and tangible interaction through fabricated objects, but it also allowed us to create objects with personal associations and meanings for the learners. In other words, this concept enabled each learner to bring objects specific to their virtual gaming experience into the physical world, like a timestamp of their gameplay movement.

On the other hand, researchers discovered five common categories or ways in which learners attached meanings and personal associations to the objects fabricated from their gameplay:

  • Objects of pride
  • Objects of creative self-expression
  • Objects of resources
  • Objects useful for expanding the gameplay into the physical world
  • Objects of shared experience

The last type of shared experience is particularly distinctive in multiplayer games, where these objects are associated with shared gameplay moments such as collective wins or team losses. As a result, in the case of multiplayer games, an additional dimension of social connection and shared learning experience is attached to the objects created from their shared gameplay.

The experience of playing and learning can be integrated further in an immersive way with a system like FabO and the researchers believe that there are several exciting avenues for expanding applications for a system like FabO, and they are eager to pursue these directions in their research.

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