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Shifting base of play and learning from real to virtual settings
Detail: The video game, The Sims, is increasingly a popular tool for children, especially girls, for playing and acting out personal themes and social relationships within a virtual dollhouse. Researchers studying the intersection of learning and gaming refer to this form of play with The Sims as writing of interactive stories while exploring personal themes. The Sims affords role-playing using different social situations through free form game play in simulated everyday settings that children can customize in the new virtual dollhouse. Children and adolescents are able to create actual characters that they can see and manipulate, and by creating real life scenarios the game becomes a tool through which young people can explore life issues and issues of identity, and test their own values and priorities.

Electronic Arts, the publisher of The Sims, reported that more than half of the game’s players are female, an exceptional statistic in video gaming where typically less than 25% of gamers are female, and less than 5% of intense and violent video gamers are female. Some researchers have explained the popularity of The Sims among girls as the need to create an imaginary companion who was just like them and someone they could relate to as they made choices in social situations and relationships. The observers of The Sims gaming also reported that girls stopped playing when they started living young adult lives as real life took over from the preparatory virtual one.

The popularity of the game among girls is now informing computer education strategies for middle school girls. Electronic Arts in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University is now developing a software called Alice 3.0 that uses the arts assets of The Sims to create a compelling and user-friendly programming environment that hopes to become the national standard for teaching software programming. Alice 3.0, working in an environment that looks and feels like The Sims, will engage all kids, especially girls, in learning computer programming in an effective, hands-on, and fun way where students will visually realize their designs by playing with Sims-like characters and emotional reaction animations that are integrated in Alice from The Sims library.

For more information on how ‘The Sims' will help make computer science
education fun see http://www.cmu.edu/cmnews/extra/060310_alice.html, and on making programming more attractive for middle school girls see http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~caitlin/work/index.html

Source: Based on a story titled “Welcome to the New Dollhouse”, in The New York Times by Seth Schiesel, published on May 7, 2006.
Date: May 11 2006