Starfighters Wanted: Apply @ NASA

Back in 1984 there was science fiction adventure movie called The Last Starfighter. The storyline involved Alex, a teenage boy, hitting the top-score on a video game which turns out to be a recruitment device for the League (the goodies) who are doing battle with the Xur and Kodan (the baddies).

Even before 1984 various science fiction styled games have developed, along with the technology. Games such as World of Warcraft, Halo and Quake are today’s better known ones, much to the dismay of parents and some spouses, no doubt.

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Where does NASA fit in on this?

Game developers have until February 15 to submit their ideas for a “Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Learning Game” that promotes the delivery of “NASA relevant content through innovative applications of technologies to enhance education”.

The intent by NASA appears to be to build a stand-alone virtual world that could act as a meaningful “hands-on” tool supporting education in “…a range of complex subjects, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based instruction”.

A quick search of the internet shows that NASA has quite a few traditional website based education and information areas but in the realm of alternative realities there is only a passing mention. For example, their area in Second Life: NASA Colab Island.

NASA’s call for submissions to build an MMO will be interesting in both the gaming aspect of the project and its intended education focus as it joins a growing number of private and governmental organisations that are establishing either game or virtual world presence for the express purpose of education and training.

Coupled with the recent publicised findings that surgeons in training benefit from using Wii suggests the convergence between online lives and education would appear to be a given, if not a virtual reality.

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