KerbalKon 2012!!

If you haven’t played Kerbal (<—- download it here), do it!  It’s amazing.

Prepare for launch!

It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has a fantastic solar system of planets and moons that you can explore.  Spacecraft motion and orbits are governed by the laws of physics, so it’s like a simulator, but it’s not so much of a simulator that it isn’t fun.  It’s really fun.  It’s even fun to blow up immediately off the launchpad.  Have I mentioned it’s fun?

You’re in freaking orbit!!!!

Of course, to get there you have to build your launch vehicle and a lander and successfully pilot it from the launchpad to the surface of another world.

Land your awesome spacecraft on another planet… now let’s find some gas and minerals! Amazeballs!

With the latest update (0.18) you can now explore the solar system using scientific instruments that map the surfaces of moons and planets and tell you how much gas is available to be mined.  Later down the road, planets and moons in Kerbal will have cloud layers that require you to use scientific instruments to survey their surfaces before you send your poor little Kerbals down to the surface.  It’s really a fun game and anything I would write wouldn’t do it justice, so please just go play it!

I was honored to be asked to speak about my experience on MSL and Curiosity during the LiveStream even for KerbalKon 2012!

Hello KerbalKon!!

I haven’t been able to find a link to the full interview, but I did find a clip.

It was so great to speak with everyone, and I hope I can talk to all the Kerbal fans and the developers again soon.  Aside from all the enthusiasm from the fans and devs, I was really really excited that the devs were so excited about using Kerbal to teach people about science and engineering.  This is exactly why I started this blog, and brought together Astrum Terra!  I hope that we all can work together to bring science and video games together and it’s already happening in Kerbal!

Right before I had to leave the LiveStream, I was told that “Craig Kerbal” would be making an appearance in Kerbal.  It will be so much fun to blow myself up from the launchpad, or successfully strand myself on the surface of another world!

Mars Game Laboratory

There is now a video game where you can drive a rover around Mars!  Other than exploring, which is awesome because the game uses real high-resolution imagery and topography data from Mars, there currently isn’t much to do.  I want to change that and that’s what I’m talking about today.  First, though, check the game out here.

Sometimes… maybe all the time, what makes a video game fun isn’t having unlimited power and resources, but having a limited amount of resources to accomplish your goal. In pretty much any game, and in real life, you have to work within a set of constraints… unless you’ve reached the “using money as a household rag” stage. I recently moved across the country to start a new job as a scientist working on the next Mars rover and so far I’ve found that not only is Mars exploration fun, but it can help to think like a gamer.

I’m standing in front of the new Xbox 720 prototype…. not really. Actually, that’s the Mars Science Laboratory testbed rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA

The rover is called the Mars Science Laboratory and on August 5th, 2012 it will land in a big crater on Mars. The crater is named Gale, and in that crater there’s a mountain of layered rocks over 5 kilometers (18,000 feet) tall. Near the base geologists think the deposits are somewhere around 2 billion years old. These rocks formed a very long time ago when we know that Mars was a much different, and much more wet place, so we’re hoping to find some really interesting clues about what Mars was like when there was generally much more water around.

Gale crater, Mars. The rover will land somewhere in that yellow oval.

In the real-life game of exploring Mars, your own Mars Science Laboratory rover is the size of small car (think Mini-Cooper) loaded with a variety of scientific instruments that each tell you something different about the surrounding rocks and environment.  Some of these instruments are mounted to the rover’s body and others can be deployed on an arm for up-close analysis. One of them, called the Alpha-Proton X-Ray Spectrometer or APXS, can tell you how much of a given element is in a rock. Very useful information! But you do have some trade-offs to consider… the instrument needs to be placed very close (not more than a few centimeters) to the sample. In order to move APXS into position you have to move the whole robotic arm, which weighs around 90 kg, so moving it takes a significant amount of power. APXS also requires a relatively large amount of time, several hours, to acquire enough statistical information to make meaningful conclusions about the abundances of the elements that are detected. But what it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in the wealth of information gained about the elemental chemistry of the rocks and, as a bonus, the data can be stored in a relatively simple text file which can be transmitted back to Earth rapidly. So you’ll have to consider when to deploy and use the APXS strategically, as the science return can be great but it might take a significant amount of time and power. By contrast, another instrument called Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (or DAN) can, within a matter on minutes, tell you the abundance of just one element, hydrogen. This instrument does not need to be deployed on the arm and its power usage is minimal. The data produced by DAN is also small, and similar to APXS, the data can be stored in text files. The advantage of DAN is that it can be used to accurately determine the abundance of hydrogen using very little power and data storage, but unlike APXS you are only getting information about hydrogen and not nearly the entire periodic table.

In video games and science, when in doubt, just blast everything with high powered lasers

OK, but say you don’t care about the composition of the rocks (what are you, some sort of physicist?) … well, your rover also has a variety of high resolution digital cameras, two on a mast that serve as the rover’s eyes and another mounted to the arm for close-up images. The cameras require relatively little power to focus and snap a picture, and the scientific return from the images can be invaluable… but what about the size of the data for all those pictures?  If you want a full-size image to come back to Earth it could be around 2 Megabytes, which doesn’t sound like much but when you’re talking about getting that data back from Mars, along with all the required engineering and telemetry data, those images can add up.  So you can scale-down the images and send back a lot of them each day, but the resolution may not be sufficient to get much scientific information.  In order to accomplish your science goals, you have to choose carefully what full-size images get sent back to Earth.  There are a bunch of other cool instruments on your rover and… I’m not even joking, one of them shoots laser beams!  But rest assured, each instrument tells you something different about Mars, has it’s own set of power requirements, generates different amounts of data, and will take different amounts of time to operate.

“Should we fire the mass acceleration cannon, Jim?” “No, let’s do some sweet jumps first.” If only planetary exploration was really like driving the rover in Mass Effect…

Now lets get back to games.  Games don’t teach us how to interpret geologic information returned from a Mars rover, and they don’t teach us how scientific instruments like APXS or DAN work, but if Mars exploration were a video game those wouldn’t be the “playable” parts of the game anyway.  In this fictional game, interpreting the geologic history of Mars (or the history of ancient alien civilizations on Mars – whatever floats your boat) is the game’s story, it’s why you play, and you’d let the writers of the game dictate how that played out.  The inner workings of how your scientific instruments work?  Well, that’d be like asking how the assault rifle in Halo works or how pylons generate energy for the Protoss in Starcraft.  Yes, it’s part of the game world, and it’s probably explained in one of the novels based on the game for players who are interested but it’s not central to much.  What is central to the assault rifle in Halo or pylons in Starcraft?  The answer is… what do they do?  And in a game about Mars exploration, the answer is the same.  What do your scientific instruments do?  For the purposes of a game, gamers don’t care how these instruments (or guns) work, the important thing is what they do and in what situation one is preferable to another.  Too often, video games that try to incorporate science get this very important part incorrect.  They incorporate science at this level of detail, giving you explanations about the details of story components or explaining how details regarding your armor or weapons rely on scientific principles.  While this method of incorporating science is commendable, it doesn’t engage the player or give them the feeling of really understanding.  In a way, the science stays above the player, and talks down to them a bit.  What I’m proposing is we give the scientific instruments and principles to the player, bring it to the level of actually using them while playing, and they’ll start to get comfortable with it.  Even if you take some liberties to make it “fun”, it’ll go a long way to making people feel more comfortable with real science.

How does this pylon work? I don’t care, but it helps me obliterate hoards of zerg.

So in the game of Mars exploration, the fun is in how you do the exploring, what instruments you use, how you use them, and how you manage your resources.  On top of this is a compelling story, graphics, and detailed background about the individual game elements.  Playing the game would involve managing to discover new, amazing things on Mars under all the constraints you’ve been given.  And as you can see, the constraints can be numerous, highly variable and (I think) fun!  What’s especially fun is that there are multiple ways to solve problems.  In the absence of any oversight whatsoever, you could accomplish the goals of Mars exploration by simply ignoring the constraints.  Drill every rock!  Take every picture!

You might be successful using this method but it will take you longer, you might wind up doing more than was necessary, you’ll use way more power, and if you use up too much time and resources, something unexpected might happen which may keep you from accomplishing your long term goal.  There’s something fulfilling and fun about finding a more elegant solution to the problem.  Gamers do this all the time, working with constraints and finding numerous, fun ways to play.

So with all this in mind, let’s get back to the Mars rover.  There is one more “fun” constraint you have to work with.  Consider that the seemingly simple act of getting data back from the rover is, in itself, determined by a process with it’s own set of advantages and limitations.  We (humans) have several satellites in orbit around Mars, and we typically use one of them as a data relay between Earth and Mars for communication to the rover.  This is great because it means we don’t have to store the data on the rover and we gain the ability to transmit relatively large quantities of data back to Earth.  But, the limitation is that the satellite only passes over Gale crater twice a day, so all of the sending and receiving of data needs to be done during those two passes of the satellite over the rover’s landing site.  And for added fun, you can only transmit so much data before the satellite passes over the horizon and you have to wait for the next pass… so you have to prioritize what comes down first, and if you don’t do it right, you might wind up sitting on Mars for an extra day without that critical piece of information you needed in order to move on.  So effectively, you’re on the clock every day to make a science plan, command the rover to take the actions that complete the plan, wait for the rover to execute it, and then to evaluate the data that came back and start all over again.  Go ahead and wrap all of these time constraints in another time constraint, which is that the rover itself, mechanically, has a limited lifetime.

Gamers are pretty familiar with managing a variety of resources… in this screenshot from World of Warcraft the bottom of the screen lists all the spells and abilities available, on the right side of the screen are all the quests the player is on, as for what’s on the left, who knows… it’s probably reminders to get up and eat a Hot Pocket every 7 hours

I described all of that stuff not only because I think it’s cool, but because it’s interesting to me that in Mars exploration and in games there are trade-offs.  Engineers, who are probably facepalming, deal with trade-offs all the time.  (Scientists… yeah, we’re aware of these things called trade-offs but they’re super inconvenient)  Gamers, too, make choices about trade-offs in many strategy-based video games like Civilization and Starcraft.  Role playing games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, World of Warcraft and Mass Effect also require a player to manage a variety of resources which have trade-offs.  I’d also wager that a game set on Mars, focused on exploration with an intriguing story line would get the attention of a lot of gamers.  And hey, I’m only partly kidding here… but what would work really well, and be cool, would be to implement this idea into a first-person shooter.  Instead of shooting a gun, you have an infrared spectrometer, thermal imager, an APXS and a neutron detector… and, well sure, you can have a gun too.  The closest we’ve come to this has been with a Portal gun, but there’s no reason why a bit more realistic of a scientific basis can’t be just as much fun as portal-based science.


UpdateCheck this out! I had nothing to do with this whatsoever, but I’m really glad to see this type of thing on Xbox Live.

Through the Rabbit Hole…

Craig Hardgrove

The sweet smell of freshly acquired achievements….

Oh, that sweet “BLEWP!” you hear when you get an achievement in an Xbox game.  It’s so satisfying… it almost feels like you’ve, well, achieved something.  What if you could hear that same noise and get that same sense of satisfaction from doing more mundane, real life tasks like doing your laundry, or walking to the train station?  What if you could also do those things while having teenagers yell out obscenities about your Mom and talk about how much better they are at doing their laundry than you??  OK, that wouldn’t be as cool.

Anyway, this past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jane McGonigal’s ideas regarding games and reality.  She wrote a book called Reality is Broken about this subject.  At first I was skeptical of her ideas on making our own world more like the video game world, but after reading her essays and listening to her speak I find myself nodding my head and agreeing wholeheartedly.  Jane’s work lies firmly in the realm of “Alternate Reality Games” (ARGs), which I’d highly recommend playing if you’ve never been a part of or experienced one.  I was sucked in one through the rabbit hole left in an official Halo 2 trailer, that briefly flashed a link to  It was my familiarity with the Halo universe that kept me playing, which mostly meant that I checked the forums at unfiction constantly, at least in the initial phases of the game.  As the game progressed, however, pay phones started ringing across the country… and the people playing the game had to answer them.  I’d never been so excited to go out and find a pay phone!

What came through the phone were snippits of an amazing story that, unknown to the players at the beginning, was actually a mini-prequel to the events of Halo 2.  It was fantastic, it was mysterious, and at some point when the final moments of the audio-drama unfolded due to the actions of thousands of players around the country, I think I may have shed a small tear.  I was so moved by the experience that I decided to drive to an end-of-game event that took place in Chicago (I lived in Knoxville, TN at the time).  Looking back on it, I’ve never had a life experience as unique as playing I Love Bees.  I Love Bees certainly wasn’t without its flaws, various payphones didn’t ring and sometimes things got a little cheesy… but the coolest part about I Love Bees, for me, was that it opened up the possibility of bringing the world of video games into the real world, and it made me want to do things I would never have done outside of the context of the ARG.

So where’s the science?  I’m happy to report that people are working on it!  In fact, some of them quite well.  MIT has a group devoted to bringing science to ARGs.  Their recent game, called Vanished, was hugely successful, attracting 6,700 registered players who learned about artificial intelligence and actually went out into the world to collect real scientific data on temperatures.  Vanished targeted children, however, there is no reason not to include adults in these types of games.  In one such game that targeted adults and children alike, called “World Without Oil”, players were required to behave like they lived in a world that had completely run out of oil.  Among other amazing things, the game actually resulted in players figuring out how to make their cars run on biofuel.  This wasn’t just in the game world though, they actually made their real cars run on biofuel… all because of the game.  Thats amazing.  So that got me thinking, what else might be possible for players of an ARG?

Start with an ARG where people create things to progress the game.  They can learn all sorts of things in this process, just as I’m sure the players who modified their cars to run on biofuel did.  What if, at first, the game required players to build small circuits to unlock something on the web or to further the game’s story?  Then the game could require other players to write computer programs.  Then the game would require that the programs would have to talk to each other, and once successful, more of the game’s content opened up….  What if, closer to the end of the game, the game asked people to build a weather balloon or a model rocket?  What if it asked them to take pictures from their balloon or rocket?  Then, using all the systems the players have built, the end of the game asked the players to launch multiple balloons from different parts of the country.  The balloons will need to communicate with one another while they were at high altitude, using the electronics communication equipment and computer programs players built earlier in the game… What do you have at that point?  You have a home-brewed Earth-orbiting telecommunications system.  You have people that know a lot more about how to launch things into near low-Earth orbit, as well as about engineering and science.  You might, I dare say, have paved the way to the future of private space exploration.

Is this too much?  I don’t think so… the power of online communities is immense.  And small non-profit groups are already sending weather balloons to very high altitudes and acquiring video.  Check this out…

The video above was made by the Brooklyn Space Program, a small group in NY.  I say we make an ARG that harnesses the power of groups like these, and combines their talents with the talents of groups throughout the world in computer programming, electronics and science.  Under the auspices of a game, people will be inspired to do truly revolutionary things.  ARGs could potentially change the world.  And if you include real science and real scientific projects in games like ARGs, you have the power to educate as well as inspire.

PS:  Probably no updates for the rest of March.  I’m going to Moscow, just in time for the “re-election” of Putin.  I’ve heard that the Russian people are not exactly thrilled with this, so wish me luck.  And please, anyone reading this who is interested in collaboration on an ARG I’d love to hear from you.

First Some Facts, Then Some Figuring. Terra Nova-style.

Craig Hardgrove

Here I am, trying to encourage scientists and video game developers to collaborate, and I go writing this… but I just can’t help myself.  Stick with me, please, because I’m really not trying to shoot myself in the foot.  I think by the end I’ll have a salient point….

The Science and Entertainment Exchange links up entertainment professionals with scientists who can help them with scientific content. It’s awesome!

There is a fantastic program called the Science and Entertainment Exchange which is run by the National Academy of Sciences.  The program partners interested scientists (pro-bono work only) with content creators (TV, film and now video games) interested in incorporating some science into their work.  Before I got the idea to start Astrum Terra, I submitted my name to them to be a scientific consultant.  The Exchange is a great way to gain experience giving scientific advice to anyone creating content or media that needs a bit of help with a particular story point or establishing believable scientific content.  Their primary focus is on TV and film, which has been bread and butter of (for pay) scientific consulting.  Keep in mind, getting paid to do science consulting is pretty rare anyway and making a living off of it is probably even more rare.  Regardless, the Science and Entertainment Exchange is an awesome way to encourage smaller creative operations with much less disposable income to partner with a scientist.  It’s also a great way for scientists to interact with the entertainment industry.  But why is the focus so heavy on TV and film?  Aren’t video game revenues pretty darn high at this point, and aren’t video game studios becoming pretty large operations?  I did some research.  According to this article, video game industry revenues were $22 billion in the US in 2008, while the global revenue for the film industry was $27 billion.  The current estimate for worldwide video game revenues is somewhere around $60 billion and it is widely accepted that the video game industry has surpassed the movie industry in terms of total revenue.  So if the TV and film industry have been using science consultants for a while now, why not video games?

I don’t know the reason, but I have a hunch, and I’m not just saying this to be nice… but I think it’s because the people that make video games are really freaking smart!  They know how to use the internet, read books, and generally look up the story information they need about, say, quantum mechanics or robotic arms.  The people that make video games are smart enough to know that a lot of the information you’re going to get from a science consultant is available on the internet, for free, and they know enough to read it, digest it and incorporate it in some form into their game.  Whatever form science consulting takes for the video game industry, if it takes a form at all, it will not be the traditional model of passing along some science-y words and hanging up the phone.  It’s going to need to be creative, collaborative, and most importantly, unique.  Because you’re not going to impress a video game developer by putting on a lab coat and flashing a spectrometer at him/her… you need to be some sort of scientist-artist, adding a little bit of science wrapped around the main plot, or pointing out areas where some real data could add to the game world, and you need to know where to back off and let them do what they do best.  You need to know a lot about how video games work, how game mechanics might be improved by adding a realistic physical effect.  You need to know something about what makes video games fun, and where some bit of real science might create a more immersive environment for the player.  You can’t just walk in with your science-hat, and toss around some science-words, and ride off on your science-horse…

“There ya go, Betty. There’s that quick science injection you asked for. Is there anything else I can do for you?” “Why yes, there is. Is there anything you can do to dull the burning from all that confusing jargon at the injection site?”

Anyway, I wrote all of that because I wanted to bring you along with me up to this point.  I wanted you to understand how I’m viewing scientific consulting, because yesterday I came across this article on the Science and Entertainment Exchange website.  The producers of the show Terra Nova requested the expertise of a geologist and were put in touch with Dr. Kevin Grazier, a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab.  According to Dr. Grazier, they asked him for,

…some geologic concepts that were close enough in their ultimate outcome to be mistaken for one another, but disparate enough to be contradictory.

The episode’s plot called for a famous geologist to come through the portal to Terra Nova, only unbeknownst to everyone he was not the famous geologist, but an impostor.  So the writers thought it would be cool to have the impostor’s dastardly-self get exposed as an impostor by incorrectly describing a geologic phenomena.  Sounds good, I like it.  Now, I’m not going to say anything about this before you read it, but here is what Dr. Grazier suggested the show use (The faux-geologist impostor’s name is Dr. Horton).

The impostor Dr. Horton begins a discussion about serpentinization (a geochemical process by which water alters basaltic igneous rock into ‘slipperier’ serpentine, thus lubricating the slabs on either side of a fault) when Maddy is actually referring to the real Dr. Horton’s writings on slab pull (a geophysical effect in which the weight of a descending subducting slab of crust speeds plate motion).

“I told you not to try and cram another pterosaur into that box… you’ve seen what happens when they’re overpressurized!” “I told you I don’t understand any of those damn science words!!!!”

Guess what?  The producers of the show didn’t include it in the final cut.  I’m sure you are saying to yourself, “Really?!  I was sure that the Terra Nova audience would be enthralled by the possibilities of slab pull induced serpentinization.”  In fairness, I don’t know what the show’s dialogue actually said, and it may be that their intention was just to blind the audience with science-words (which, for the record, I feel has a totally appropriate time and place).

So am I really all that upset by this?  No, because I like that shows are trying to use science and I really like that caring people like Dr. Grazier are putting their time and effort into trying to include real science in TV and film.  My point is that, although these concepts are real scientific phenomena, the suggested science would be heard by the audience as nothing more than techno-babble.  They might as well have been inductively-coupling the dilithium crystals to Data’s positronic matrix so the Enterprise could perform a Riker Maneuver out of the negative space anomaly.

*slow clap*

Thank you.

But in all seriousness, the concepts addressed in the proposed Terra Nova plot (serpentinization and slab pull) aren’t that difficult to explain in plain english.  And you know what’s great about describing things in plain english?  You don’t have to use words like serpentinization and slab pull.  The following wouldn’t fly in a discussion amongst scientists, but if you’re addressing, say, the audience of Terra Nova I’d suggest something like this instead:

The impostor Dr. Horton begins a discussion about the alteration of minerals in volcanic rocks when they are exposed to water, when Maddy is actually referring to the real Dr. Horton’s writings on the increasing speeds of moving tectonic plates.

Yeah, it doesn’t sound as badass, right?  I didn’t blow you away with amazing science, I know, and I’m very sorry.  But I told you the same things and I didn’t make you feel dumb.  Sure some details are lost in my version, but there’s less jargon.  I would hope that most people have some idea about the words I used… in fact, the only ones people might have trouble with are “tectonic plates” and “volcanic”, but I think most people have, at the very least, a vague picture of these concepts.

Remember this from school? Ben remembers….

This seemingly more simple explanation is more likely to connect with the audience.  If you address your audience like they’re intelligent, try to not talk above their heads, and use scientific concepts in a way that’s familiar, you might just intrigue them into being interested in science by sparking that part of the brain that hasn’t thought about “tectonic plates” since high school.  That doesn’t happen when you say the word “serpentinization” to someone.  What does happen is that the audience says to themselves, “I have no idea what that guy just said, but scientists much be a lot smarter than me.”  The truth is, there are a lot of smart people doing science, but that doesn’t mean the people who aren’t doing science aren’t capable of understanding what scientists are doing.  Some really famous scientist-type guy named Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it…”  And he invented general relativity, so naturally, he must have thought that general relativity could be explained simply.  I bet he’s right.  I know I can’t explain it simply, but that’s because I don’t understand it.  I can understand the desire to use specific terms when talking about science, because on some level science can be about classification, however, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind, and why there is a term for something in the first place, because before that term existed there was a way to describe the phenomena without using that term… the word or definition just makes it quicker to say.  But anyway, I’m seriously digressing and this topic is probably less about science and video games and more about communicating science.

I don’t yet know if scientists and game developers will work side by side, but I think they should (and I’ll give some examples in the future of where this is already happening).  This type of collaboration is critically important for the future of science in video games.  The key point, however, is that computer programmers and game developers already think like scientists, so scientists working with them need to speak and collaborate with them as equals.  And likewise, scientists need to contribute to game development as part of the team, not as an outsider looking in.


The Video Game Laboratory

Craig Hardgrove

In science, it’s all about testing your hypothesis.  Well, that, and there’s this small detail about finding grant money… but anyway.  For example, the hypothesis underlying all of Astrum Terra is that scientists (and real science data) can be useful in the process of creating video games.  It’s always nice to know that there are others out there who have come to the same, or at least similar, conclusions.

I recently came across a few articles that give me hope for the future of science in video games.  The first is from Colorado, where news broke that University of Colorado – Boulder’s video game design program (iDREAM institute) got a 1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation.  The program at Boulder uses video game design to teach students computational thinking skills.  It’s fantastic to see video games not only being used in education, because the potential there to reach young students is incredible, but it’s also great to see that large funding organizations like NSF are seeing amazing work like that being done at UC-Boulder’s iDREAMs Institute as a valuable area of research to fund.

One other inspiring article I found speaks volumes about the value scientists can add to video game design.  The article focuses on small, relatively simple games that can communicate scientific concepts effectively.  They also brought up the intriguing idea that:

“Rather than straightforward programming ability, the creative base of science is more valuable when innovating and devising games and game engines.”

This really got me thinking…

Can scientists be creative? Studio 360 has thought so since 2005!

They don’t really elaborate on this quote in the article.  If you’re interested in exploring this idea, check out the website, which has been hosting a variety of articles on science as a creative art since 2005.  Here’s my take on it (as it relates to gaming specifically)… scientists can provide creative insight in designing video games without explicitly programming anything.  The things that scientists (be they lab scientists or field scientists) do on a daily basis can be drawn upon in creating back stories, realistic dialogue, or realistic experiments… but there is another thing.  The mere act of conducting experiments, subsequently publishing those results in written form, and communicating results effectively in presentations means that scientists have experience thinking about how concepts and ideas can be conveyed clearly.  They also think about the best way to approach a problem to achieve a result, which essentially means they think about how they’re going to test their hypotheses.  How is this useful in a game?  Games, be they FPS, RPG or otherwise, have puzzles… sometimes in the traditional sense and other times in the gameplay (like, what is the most effective way to win or to kill an enemy).  When the player picks up an assault rifle and tries to kill a guy on a mounted turret, he/she is conducting an experiment.  When said player is summarily destroyed by the turret guy in 0.2 seconds and waits to respawn while while their body is tea-bagged relentlessly… well, then the experiment has failed and they will try again with either a new weapon or new strategy.

The sad results of a failed scientific experiment...

Games are all about experimenting with the environment to figure out the best way to achieve your goals.  To design a good game that players enjoy, you want to reward their experiments.  You want them to try different experiments.  More importantly, you want the player to understand what experiment is being conducted at any given time and how well it succeeds or fails.  Scientists are familiar with this approach intimately.  But scientists also know that success or failure of an experiment isn’t always straightfoward… sometimes an experiment appears to confirm a hypothesis in one instance and not in another.  Scientists understand how to tease out what variables need to be isolated and tested.  That familiarity with experimentation can bring an incredible amount of detail to a video game world.  What types of variables can the game designer add, and in what way, to both challenge the player and reward them for successful experimentation?

I have no doubt that currently, game developers are using scientific techniques to assess how much fun their games are to play.  Some of them are doing it quite well!  What I’m hoping to convey is that, in addition to contributing a wealth of knowledge on scientific concepts, scientists can help game designers make design choices that establish fun “experiments” for the player that are rewarding and fulfilling to conduct.

Video games are a different type of science laboratory, where sometimes your experiments result in a shotgun to the face or worse… a good ol’ baggin’.