Game for a spot of 3D learning

You can take the boy out of Tomb Raider, but not Tomb Raider out of the boy. Becta, the official education technology agency, has commissioned Caspian Learning, a 3D computer game developer, to conduct a study of games in learning.

Caspian soon found out that boys wanted to be able to carry weapons in the games, which is much frowned upon in educational circles. But it seems the company may have a point. For example, when participating in a game about the French Revolution, it is difficult to storm the Bastille without decent muskets and pitchforks.

The game designers have provided a guillotine, but they do not allow players to insert characters' heads beneath the blade.

So, will teenagers engage with worthy, educational 3D games when they could be playing Tomb Raider or Doom? That is one of the questions researchers hope to answer by providing software to up to 400 schools.

Caspian is believed to be investing up to pound;200,000 in the year-long study, supplemented by several thousand pounds from the Department for Education and Skills.

Graeme Duncan, Caspian's chief operating officer, said its educational games did not aspire to compete with the "mindless violence" of some entertainment games. Pupils who achieve the targets - all of which involve learning or analysis - are rewarded with points to spend on clothes and toys. This could result in Robespierre skateboarding through revolutionary Paris wearing Nike-style trainers and a puffer jacket.

The company has stopped short of offering players fast cars of the sort found in Grand Theft Auto, perhaps wary of aiding and abetting Louis XVI's escape.

It is little wonder that computer games are subject to snobbery from traditionalist teachers, as Mr Duncan happily admits.

"Our belief is that games are a powerful way of teaching, but not the only way, he said"

There is no question that computer games engage children or that they can be used to educate, but Caspian will need to prove they can do both at the same time.

* www.thinkingworlds.com

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