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Literacy initiative targets the Gameboy generation

An unlikely solution to helping young people with literacy problems was launched in Dundee this week - computer games.

The "Discovery Game" is an attempt to use technology in a way that is entertaining but also has educational value, according to Peter Astheimer, director of the International Centre for Computer Games and Virtual Entertainment (IC CAVE) at Abertay University, which helped develop the initiative aimed at 16-24s.

"Computer games have captured the imagination of the young generation," Professor Astheimer said, "and this particular game also motivates people to take the first crucial steps in education." He is hoping for worldwide distribution.

Political correctness should not get in the way, a seminar to launch the project heard. Marie Dailly of the Dundee Literacies Initiative admitted that she had initial concerns about the level of violence in the game and about the way some female characters are portrayed. But she had changed her mind.

"It quickly became apparent that, if we were going to use the gaming genre, then it had to be authentic," Ms Dailly said. "People wanted the games to be very action-orientated so we left out the violence that related to other people but retained that directed at objects."

Motivation, however, will only happen if the game is appropriate to the group it is targeting, according to Lucy Joyner, a research assistant at IC CAVE who will carry out an evaluation of the Discovery Game.

Ms Joyner, who researched the use of games in this country and the Far East, said that while the concept of a game may not appeal to some people and may not be seen as politically correct, the materials must appeal to the users.

"An effective learning tool has to attract the people it is intended for.

They need to feel confident using it and the material has to be familiar to them. Then they will learn without realising it."

Ms Dailly told the seminar that "anecdotal" evidence suggests that e-learning programmes are not as attractive to learners as expected and computer games may be more appealing.

Jessie Harrington, an adult education tutor with Scottish Borders Council, saw it as exciting and different and was sure it would go down well with her students. She had no problem with the level of violence portrayed, while 15-year-old Mark Sanderson found that the game more than met his preference for "action-packed games".

The game will eventually be distributed to all of Scotland's learning centres and following the evaluation a national steering group is expected to make recommendations on the future use of computer games in literacy campaigns.

The Dundee initiative is part of the national drive to improve adult literacy and numeracy to which the Scottish Executive has committed pound;51 million from 2001-06.

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