Educational video game created by Viz prof-led firm debuts June 1

André Thomas

André Thomas

At a downtown Bryan celebration marking the debut of an educational video game, guests learned how the Italian Renaissance produced some of the world’s greatest art by playing the new title, "ARTé Mecenas." The June 1, 2016 reception was hosted by Triseum, the game's developer, led by founding CEO André Thomas, a visualization faculty member at Texas A&M.

"ARTé Mecenas" is the first in a planned suite of games by the company, whose developers, in a partnership with Texas A&M visualization students, faculty, and industry experts, intend to make video game-based learning an integral part of education, enhancing critical thinking skills and learning outcomes for students at all levels.

In the game, designed to supplement a traditional, college-level art history course, a player is a member of the powerful 15th century merchant/banking Medici family, which played a pivotal role in creating Italian Renaissance art, monuments and institutions through its relationships with city-states, merchant factions, and the Catholic Church.

By following the historical footsteps of the Medicis, game players rise to the status of “Mecenas,” an influential patron of the arts, while navigating the tumultuous political, social, and economic conditions of the day.

The game was conceived and initially developed by students and faculty in the Department of Visualization’s Learning Interactive Visualizations Experience Lab, a group founded by Thomas that includes faculty and student designers, coders, and educational specialists from visualization, educational psychology, computer science and engineering departments who, in collaboration with the videogame industry, create and champion interactive educational software.

After the game was tested at Texas A&M, Triseum’s team, which includes graduates from visualization and other disciplines as full-time employees and current students as part-time employees and interns, further readied the game for use in universities.

The game is Triseum’s first effort to bring digital gaming into the classroom, said Thomas, who led graphics development, planning and implementation for the EA Sports’ powerhouse lineup of football videogames before joining the Texas A&M faculty.

“Students use computers in almost every aspect of their academic lives, including writing papers and taking notes, but course content is still overwhelmingly presented through classroom lectures and tested through exams,” he said.

What one often finds in the lecture/test mode of teaching, according to Susan Pedersen, Texas A&M associate professor of educational psychology and a LIVE Lab collaborator, is that students often don’t understand why they’re being taught what they are taught or how to apply what they’re learning. In video game-based learning, however, students take the initiative, resulting in education that emphasizes application and problem solving over memorization.

“Students take information presented in the game and apply it to the task at hand. They understand its value and they’re much more likely to transfer that knowledge to other relevant situations,” said Pedersen, whose research focuses on the use of technology to create student-centered learning approaches to K-12 and undergraduate environments.

Triseum is also developing “Variant,” a game that promises to transform abstract concepts in college-level calculus classes into concrete gaming experiences.

posted May 27, 2016