Quantum mechanics is a foundational subject in many fields of science and engineering. However, quantum mechanics is difficult to teach because it is abstract and built on probabilistic concepts that appear counterintuitive to students. Introductory quantum mechanics courses and texts predominantly focus on the mathematical formulations of the subject and lay less emphasis on its conceptual understanding. As a result students often struggle to develop robust mental models that are necessary for its understanding. Particle in a Box is a 2-D platformer game to visualize quantum mechanics concepts and supplement student learning of the subject.
1. How can the design environment enable students to build on their past experiences and knowledge, while facilitating their ability to break free from it?
2. How can we design an integrated environment that is both scientic and immersive; serious and playful?
3. How can we design a game character that is relatable and gender-neutral, thus breaking free from the stereotypes of a male-dominated discipline?
1. Building on students' past experiences
One first main challenge was to provide a basis for comparison to demonstrate how concepts such as energy, position, and momentum differ across classical and quantum mechanics. The broad strategy of our game is that of comparison. More specifically, the game is divided into two worlds: the classical mechanics world (Fig. 3) and the quantum mechanics world (Fig. 4). Objects in the classical world behave in ways that are familiar to everyday experience, while objects in the quantum world behave unexpectedly.
2. Integrated Environment
The second key challenge we faced was to design a visual environment that was both scientific and immersive; serious and playful. Our response to
this challenge was to create an integrated environment that combined the scientific representations of quantum mechanics concepts with the game environment.
2.1 Iterative Design Process
The design of the integrated environment followed an iterative process. Many of the game elements in both worlds changed as a result of frequent user testing and discussion. For example, the energy sources in the old iteration of the classical world were “weights.” However, they were not read as weights and appeared to the students as “suitcases.” We then used a different visual metaphor connected to the idea of “lifting weights” in the next iteration. This still did not connect to the idea of
the ball absorbing energy. We nally changed the weights to bolts to better represent the idea of an energy source (Fig. 5). This kind of iterative process was adopted for all other design changes to the environment.
Given the abstract nature of QM concepts and the educational aims
of the game, it was important for the game to include simple tutorials that helped players learn how to play the game. In earlier versions, the tutorials were 3-4 pages of text presented before the beginning of each level with each page accompanying an image to explain a key concept
(Fig. 6). However, in our evaluations, most students told us that this feature made the game feel more like an interactive textbook
than a game because the tutorials hampered the game experience.
Our latest iteration presents tutorials as small challenges before the start of each level in the game environment itself (Fig. 7). The tutorial level builds up and explains the environment step-by-step. The player is guided to perform a necessary game action (such as bringing an energy bolt to the ball) to facilitate introduction and use of a concept. Upon completion of the tutorial,
the player is left to complete the remaining level, where he must apply the concepts learned, in order to cross the level. Through this strategy, we give players enough support at the beginning to start playing the game while leaving room for explorative learning through trial and error as in other game environments.
3. Neutral yet Relatable Character
The third key challenge we faced in the game design was to design a relatable and gender-neutral character, breaking free from the stereotypes of a male-dominated discipline. There is a large gender disparity both in science and gaming. Research suggests that students might reject a game if it does not respect their gender identities.
Going further, we want to test the effectiveness of this method for concepts of higher complexity. We are also considering expanding the game to support multiplayer gameplay. This will allow us the opportunity to explore video games as a collaborative learning space.