A recent study conducted by researchers of University of Sussex has found that in a class devoted to teaching young teenagers how to code and write computer roleplaying games, female students often produced more complicated games and learned to code faster than their male counterparts. The study, which will be published in the January issue of the journal Computers and Education, was carried out across eight weeks as a class of 12-13 year old students were taught to program and code games in an interface based on the game Neverwinter Nights, a classic PC roleplaying game based on the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gaming rule set. The programming language utilized in this study is Flip, which utilizes visual language and natural language to ease learning process and emphasize principles of game design. A portion of the study’s procedure can be read below:
Before the game creation project began, the pre-test was administered to all three classes. This required students to watch a video of a computer game being played: at regular intervals, they were asked to write a rule, in their own words, which would produce the behaviour they had just observed within the game. At the end of the game making project, a corresponding post-test was administered. Both tests had an identical number of questions, with each pre-test/post-test question matched in terms of level of difficulty, the specific computational concept being tested, and the rule structure(s) that would need to be present in an answer in order for it to be considered correct.
Each class had 2 lessons per week scheduled over the 8 week project, with each lesson lasting 53 min. However, bank holidays occurring during the 8 week period meant that one of the classes did not have the full 16 lessons on the project. The teacher introduced Flip to the pupils through whole class demonstrations, and gave examples of the different in-game effects that could be achieved using Flip.
Log files, and the scripts created during the project, were collected to allow investigation of the extent to which Flip was used by the pupils. The teacher was also interviewed at the end of the game making project.
According to the study, girls’ games often used more than seven different types of programmer triggers within their games — such as a character dying or moving somewhere — while boys only used half as many in their own projects. In addition, the authors of the study, Dr. Kate Howland and Dr. Judith Good, also point out that boys most commonly used character speech as a trigger for events, which is the easiest to use and least complicated of such programming flags.
Does this study have merit? Or is the sample size simply to small for any significant conclusion to be drawn from it? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @APGNation for more gaming news and reviews.