Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Physics Update

The physics community has long dreamed of games atop physics engines, with a lot of those coming true, as in Spore and Uru. The importance of storytelling, not just particles dashing about, was singled out by Thomas Malone, a cognitive psychologist writing in BYTE magazine back in 1981 (see endnote). His theories of intrinsic motivation aimed to explain why computer games are fun, if they're fun. One of the guidelines: include lots of hidden info, make it a treasure hunt of some kind.

Our marketing is moving towards an "adds spice" message, in relation to a boringly bland diet of all XYZ all the time. It's not "teach the controversy" as the "intelligent design" people counseled, but "share the stage" i.e. we get equal time for our puppets, or at least a bigger slice of the programming pie than today, wherein few have ever heard of the great rhombicosidodecahedron (too big for Big Bird's little brain, let alone Bert's), and wherein our "arrowhead geometry" is considered strictly out of bounds, too NC-17 for any high school geometry classes (so call it geography then?).

My sense is the physics community isn't as stuck in the mud as the mathematicians and will have no problems with our slight variants on the Newtonian themes. Saying all linear momentum is angular momentum really makes no difference if your orbits are long enough, and all that matters since Einstein is "geodesic" in any case, the shape of space being described by accelerations (world lines), not any "instant, simultaneously everywhere, XYZ grid" (relative to which observer again?). These subtleties aren't enough to matter, 99% of the time. Mostly we all just want to teach the same old same old as best as we're able: how to live long and prosper while remaining worthy of such a fine planet.

Endnote: Malone, T.W., What makes computer games fun? Byte, 1981, 6, 258-277 (Reprinted in Computers in Education (U.K.), 1982, 4, 14-21; and in D. Peterson (Ed.), Intelligent Schoolhouse. Reston, VA: Reston Publishing Co. (Prentice-Hall), 1984. Abbreviated version reprinted as: Guidelines for designing educational computer programs, Childhood Education, 1983, 59, 241-247.)