Proceedings of Informing Science & IT Education Conference (InSITE) 2012Rapid Digital Game Creationfor Learning Object-Oriented ConceptsNikunj Dalal (Management Science and Information Systems),Subhash Kak (Computer Science), andSohum Sohoni (Computer Engineering)Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, [email protected]; stractA large body of research from multiple fields demonstrates the power of digital games in learning. This article is about the learning that occurs from making games, rather than from playinggames. In this paper, we describe the use of Rapid Digital Game Creation (RDGC) for learningand teaching Object-Oriented (O-O) concepts. RDGC involves the rapid building of digital gameswith high-level software that requires little or no programming knowledge. We examine howRDGC supports the understanding of various O-O concepts. Using a theoretical framework ofconstructionism, we discuss pedagogical guidelines for RDGC-based learning. We suggest thatRDGC is a useful pedagogic tool that complements formal programming languages and can helpflatten the steep learning curve needed to learn O-O computer programming (or OOP).Keywords: Rapid digital game creation, Learning, Object-oriented concepts, Pedagogy, Computing educationIntroductionIn recent years, digital game based learning has received considerable attention from researchersas it has been found that playing videogames can enhance learning in both adults and children. Alarge body of research from multiple fields (Babcock & Marks 2010; Gee 2007; Lenhart, Kahne,Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008) demonstrates the power of games, and a growingnumber of researchers are incorporating games into education. Digital games are linked to excitement, energy, motivation, imagination, learning, and flow. Play fosters learning, flexibility,and creativity (Silveira, Araújo, Veiga, Naito, & Comotti, 2011). Moreover, recent research(Lenhart et al., 2008) has shown that games cut across gender, ethnic, and socio-economicboundaries. This study showed how ubiquitous games are to the younger generation raised in thecomputer, gaming and Internet era, that is, the digital natives (Prensky, 2001) — 98% of teenageboys and 94% of girls play electronicMaterial published as part of this publication, either on-line orgames—and shattered stereotypes aboutin print, is copyrighted by the Informing Science as being restricted to a “solitary,Permission to make digital or paper copy of part or all of thesenerd” subculture. The motivational poworks for personal or classroom use is granted without feeprovided that the copies are not made or distributed for profittential of digital games staggers theor commercial advantage AND that copies 1) bear this noticeimagination. Games form a context forin full and 2) give the full citation on the first page. It is perlearning which can be understood bymissible to abstract these works so long as credit is given. Topeople from diverse cultures and backcopy in all other cases or to republish or to post on a server orto redistribute to lists requires specific permission and paymentgrounds.of a fee. Contact Pub[email protected] to requestredistribution permission.

Rapid Digital Game CreationConsiderable research in digital game based learning has been about the learning that occursfrom playing games. But what is the learning that can occur from building rather than playinggames? Curricula that have used game design in computing currcula have largely found high motivation, increased learning, and positive effects on students (e.g., Bayliss & Strout, 2006; Parberry, Kazemzadeh, & Roden, 2006). In recent years, the dramatic increase in rapid prototypingtools for building games and applications is leading to a new interest in innovative learningfrom rapidly creating games. Hence, in this paper, we specifically focus on rapid game creation.Rapid Digital Game Creation or RDGC is the process “used to build computer games quickly andeasily using game creation software that requires little or no programming knowledge. Rapidgame creation enables a creator to build a quick prototype game and to see the effects of changesalmost immediately (Dalal, Dalal, Kak, Antonenko, & Stansberry, 2009, p. 125).” Why focus onlearning from rapid game creation and not from design of digital games from scratch? Design ofgames from scratch is a very complex cognitive activity (Sweller, 1998) involving considerableexpertise, high costs, and development time, and as such is not readily possible or available forwide communities of learners. In contrast, RDGC-based learning can be a fun process that is nothighly difficult or expensive to implement and maintain.While RDGC-based learning involves fun, motivation, art, music, and creativity, our focus in thispaper is on the use of RDGC for learning and teaching of object-oriented concepts. All major academic recommendations for information systems and computing ecommendations) include the concepts of O-O programming, O-O analysis, O-O modeling, and O-O design. Concepts such as classes, objects,events, instances and their subconcepts are intrinsic to the understanding of the development ofmodern systems. Moreover, such concepts make up a deeper type of thinking skill important forstudents to learn: that we might call object-oriented thinking. As Wright (2007) asserts:“Object-oriented thinking has been around even before object-oriented programming. People do it without knowing it might be called object-oriented. Ithelps us conceptualize a system and better grasp it. It helps us wrap our mindaround a system without blowing a fuse. It makes programming easier for usand easier for others coming to our code. Object-oriented programming wascreated to make it easy to transfer our object-oriented thinking into code, although we can still program procedurally our object-oriented design.”Object-oriented thinking, in turn, may be seen as an aspect of computational thinking, which“represents a universally applicable attitude and skill set that everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use It is concerned with conceptualizing, problem-solvingand designing systems drawing upon mathematical and engineering thinking using concepts fundamental to computing” (Wing, 2006).In this paper, we propose the use of RDGC for the learning and innovative teaching of basic andadvanced O-O concepts. This paper is organized as follows. In the next section, we describe theRDGC process and tools and demonstrate the creation of a Pong game using a tool called GameMaker. Next, we discuss the theoretical basis of constructionism. Then we discuss pedagogy forO-O learning and teaching with RDGC. Finally, we conclude with limitations and implicationsfor future teaching and research.Rapid Digital Game CreationAs described earlier, RDGC refers to the process of building computer games quickly and easily,using game creation software that requires little or no programming knowledge. RDGC offers aneasy and enjoyable way of achieving this task of building computer games. It does not requirethe user to have prior knowledge of programming. There are various RDGC tools available such238

Dalal, Kak, & Sohonias Game Maker (, Multimedia Fusion(, Alice (, and Scratch( among others. Tools such as App Inventor( are also available for building mobile games and apps. Thetools vary in several aspects such as ease of use, ease of learning, type of deployment platform,and in the availability of different complex options for building a game. But they all offer a visualobject oriented platform with a variety of options to create and specify objects, events and methods. Some tools are specialized for building games whereas others can be used for building moregeneral applications or software. However, note that the approach described in this paper is platform independent as any of the tools can be used as a means to learn and teach O-O skills.As an example, see Figure 1, which shows the user-interface of Multimedia Fusion 2. Area 1 isthe workspace that shows the levels of the game. Area 2 shows the properties of a game or any ofits objects. The objects used by the game are themselves displayed in Area 3. These objects canbe laid out in a frame as shown in Area 4. Other rapid game-making programs have interfaceswith similar functionality.Figure 1: Screenshot of the user interface of Multimedia Fusion 2Creating a Game in Game MakerIn this paper, we illustrate the RDGC process in relation to O-O concepts using Game Maker asthe platform because it is popularly available in the public domain and because of the relativelyshort learning curve it requires (Habgood & Overmars, 2006). Game Maker enables the gamecreator to create sprites (the graphic images for the characters required for the game), objects(where the characters created using the sprites are assigned properties), events (e.g., collision be-239

Rapid Digital Game Creationtween objects), actions in response to the events (e.g., ball goes up upon collision with the wall),rooms (used to implement different levels of the game), sounds, backgrounds, and others.Figure 2 shows a screen shot from a prototype Pong game created using Game Maker. The Ponggame was designed as an aid to illustrate O-O concepts. The time it takes to create the initialgame is as little as 30 minutes.Figure 2. Prototype Pong Game designed using GameMakerDesigning the game in Game Maker requires very little or no programming knowledge. It hasseveral in-built menu options that can be selected as per the user’s requirements. Initially, weneed to create the sprites or graphic images for the ball and the paddle. This is done using thebuilt-in editor in minutes.Figure 3. Designing an objectOnce the required sprites are created, we use them as graphic images to represent the objects. After the objects are created, the next step is to specify events (such as collision between ball andpaddle or key press by game player) and the actions performed by the objects in response to theevents (e.g., bounce the ball back or move the paddle). This process is shown in Figures 3 and 4.With the use of events and actions, the game creator can iterate through different ‘if-then-else’scenarios as required for the game.240

Dalal, Kak, & SohoniFigure 4. Adding events to objectsAfter assigning the required events and setting up other aspects of the game such as the scoreboard and the room design where the objects are to be placed (see Figure 4), the final game isready to be played.Figure 5. Design of room where the objects are to be placedTheoretical Basis of Rapid Digital GameCreation-Based LearningRDGC-based learning is grounded in the learning theories of social constructivism (Solomon1994) and constructionism (Harel & Papert 1991). Piaget’s theory of constructivism argues thatknowledge and meaning are constructed rather than pre-existing (Piaget & Inhelder 1969). Experiences drive the development of ideas in a continuum that the learner ultimately derives meaning from. This makes the student a "builder" of knowledge, as opposed to a simple recipient ofknowledge. This is at odds with the traditional classroom where a student is a quiet receptor andthe teacher is a guardian of secret knowledge that is "gifted" onto the student. Social constructivism and constructionism (Harel & Papert 1991) go beyond constructivism by asserting that thebest context for learning happens "when the learner is engaged in the construction of somethingexternal or at least shareable. a sand castle, a machine, a computer program, a book. This leadsus to a model using a cycle of internalization of what is outside, then externalization of what isinside and so on." This is also a kind of “learning-by-making”, as articulated by Papert (1991).241

Rapid Digital Game CreationConstructionism is thus an epistemological framework concerned with building things, both inthe sense of building understanding (as in constructivism) and building artifacts. RDGC is a constructionist learning activity because it involves the creation of a tangible artifact – a game, whichin turn involves the designing of characters, virtual locations, and interactions of characters.Hence, it is a multi-layered constructionist process where building each artifact within the gameis considered a separate, measurable instance of constructionist learning (Dalal et al., 2009). Basing on constructionism, learning in the RDGC environment happens from the process of creatingthe game and its components, experimenting with them to see how they work, modifying them towork better, and reflecting upon this process.RDGC not only provides an opportunity to learn as a consequence of designing a game, it alsoallows for learning from the environment in which the game is developed, including fellow students and programming partners. Moreover, the learning is implicit, and a consequence of themain activity of designing a game. This is important, since game design is an exciting activitythat provides a narrative to motivate students to continue engaging in the activity, without necessarily focusing on what they are learning. They can later reflect on what they learned, and therebycomplete the loop for metacognition.RDGC and Object-Oriented ConceptsThere is some evidence that using a rapid prototyping tool in a classroom and lab before exposingstudents to formal programming would create a better understanding of O-O concepts and improve their programming skills (see e.g., Cooper, Dann, & Pausch, 2003). Scratch, a creation ofMIT’s media lab, has been used prior to teaching Java in an introductory computer science courseat Harvard (Malan & Leitner, 2007) and it was found that the use of the software was exciting tostudents at a critical time during their first exposure to computer science and it helped the novicelearners of programming to learn without the distraction of syntax.Object-oriented thinking and its realization in the form of a prototype game is intrinsic to theRDGC process. Object orientation involves an intuitive if not explicit understanding of conceptssuch as objects, instances, events, abstraction, polymorphism, encapsulation among others. At alower level, it also involves the understanding of programming structures such as sequence, decisions, and iterations. Table 1 shows some common O-O concepts also used in OOP languagessuch as Java. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list.Table 1: Commong O-O ConceptsConcept1) Abstraction2) Inheritance3) Polymorphism4) Encapsulation242DescriptionAbstraction is used to represent essential characteristics without necessarily explaining all the details. This includes the notions of object classes and instances.Inheritance allows an object of a class to acquire the properties of theobject of a super class. This allows for reusability.Polymorphism allows an operation to take more than one form andhence can allow an object to show different behaviors in different situations.Encapsulation compartmentalizes the functional details of some or all ofthe object's components such that the internal details are hidden fromview outside the object. This involves the concepts of properties andmethods.

Dalal, Kak, & SohoniRDGC for O-O Learning And TeachingHow does designing a game such as Pong using an RDGC tool help the learner understand O-Oconcepts and how can an instructor demonstrate the concepts via the game? One teaching approach is to illustrate the concepts by having the students build a game and explore the conceptsby means of their RDGC implementation, and then reflect on their exploration and experiences.This may be done in an introductory computing course or a pre-OOP course. This approach isconsistent with an objects-first strategy recommended by curriculum experts of computing, wherestudents learn O-O concepts first in contrast to the more commonly used programming-first approach (Cooper, Dann, & Pausch, 2003; Topi, Valacich, Kaiser, Nunamaker, Sipior, de Vreede,& Wright (2010).The theoretical framework of constructionism suggests the following pedagogic guidelines:1. Create different learning activities to be related to a larger task. This allows students tosee the interconnectedness of different concepts and skills. With RDGC, the overarchinggoal of creating a prototype digital game will be the central theme for the learning activities, which include O-O learning.2. The learner needs to be given ownership of the overall problem, which allows for freeexploration of alternative solutions. Hence, Pong can be a starting point but learnersshould be allowed to make their own games.3. An authentic task should be designed for the learner- i.e. the learner should feel that thegame that they are creating will be fun to play, and will be used by others.4. Allow reflection on the content being learned. Students may be asked to write a report forthe game that they created along with a separate reflection essay on their experienceswith RDGC and their understanding of O-O concepts. After creating several games, students may be asked to select one or two games to include in a digital portfolio, justifyingwhy they picked those specific ones.5. Later, when students learn an OOP such as Java, they can be asked to create an equivalent Pong game and asked to show the correspondences from the RDGC implementationto the equivalent Java code.Hence, in an attempt to build a digital game, learners intrinsically learn basic OOP conceptswithout necessarily realizing that they are using those concepts. Subsequently, when they do learnan OOP language, it is easier for them to understand the programming constructs because theycan be correlated with specific examples from the user’s own game products. RDGC can alsohelp better understand the basic concepts of programming such as the use of sequence, loops, decision structures, and other aspects of programming because they are direct implementations ofearlier-performed intuitive RDGC tasks.We discuss below the RDGC mappings of some representative O-O concepts.AbstractionIn object-oriented programming, we are able to create abstract object classes and their instances,and specify properties and methods or operations. In the RDGC implementation of Pong, thelearner can be shown e.g., that Paddle is an object class with properties of width and length andmethods relating to movement direction and movement velocity. The specific paddles used in thegame are instances of the class Paddle, a fact that would be intuitively obvious to the learner butcan be explicated as a labeled concept by the instructor.243

Rapid Digital Game CreationInheritanceInheritance allows classes to inherit commonly used state and behavior from other classes. Forexample, in the Pong game, the general Paddle object class can be shown to be used to createspecialized classes representing various kinds of paddles such as LongPaddle, MediumPaddle,ShortPaddle, and each subclass would inherit the properties and methods from the superclassPaddle.PolymorphismPolymorphism as an O-O concept allows an operation to take more than one form and hence canallow an object to show different behaviors in different situations. As a programming language concept, polymorphism allows values of different data types to be handled using a uniform interface. For example, in the Pong game, the Move method for a Paddle or a Ball can beshown to be implemented in different ways depending upon the level and complexity of thegame.EncapsulationEncapsulation is a language mechanism for restricting access to some of the object'scomponents in an OOP. In the Pong game, encapsulation can be explained e.g., in termsof how the methods of an object are hidden from other objects. For example, the movement of a Paddle instance is not known to the Ball instance.Discussion and Future ResearchThe use of game design in the curriculum is not new. Many studies have reported largely positiveeffects of game design in terms of attitudes, learning, creativity, holding the student’s interest,retention, and other parameters and the empirical evidence for this approach is growing. In thispaper, we have examined the use of RDGC in learning Object-Oriented concepts. We believe thelearning process using RDGC facilitates the learning of the abstract concepts of Object-Orientedprogramming and modeling prior to actually programming in an OOP. While we have presentedsome evidence, our study is limited by its exploratory nature.We do not view RDGC as an alternative to teaching a formal programming language such as Java. But we do see it providing advantage in the understanding of programming constructs if theinstructor explains the constructs in terms of the steps taken by the student in the creation of hisgame. Therefore, we see RDGC and other formal programming languages complement one another. It can help flatten the steep learning curve needed to learn O-O computer programming.Moreover, based on our experience, RDGC can also be used in systems courses for objectmodeling purposes as the game characters and props can serve as virtual-world objects for modeling.We believe RDGC is a general pedagogical approach with wide ranging applications though thereis a need for studies to test this assertion in different domains. It can also be used to teach domain-specific knowledge when students build games in specific domains. Recent studies (Lenhartet al., 2008) on the social impact of games show that electronic games cut across societal boundaries and provide a framework that is understood by diverse groups. Learning outcomes improvewhen students have a context for learning that is framed within their own experience (Bransford,Brown, & Cocking, 2000). The target audience of high-school and college-age students identifieswith, and is strongly rooted in, the culture of games. Seymour and Hewitt’s classic study (Seymour & Hewitt 1994) highlighted the adverse impact unfamiliar college culture has on retentionand success in STEM programs. Since students from all backgrounds understand games, they244

Dalal, Kak, & Sohonihave broad and deep experience to draw from in game creation, contextualizing design. Since theappeal of games transcends gender, age, and race, introducing RDGC can potentially increasecomputing enrollment among groups historically known to be under-represented in those disciplines.Games encourage interaction and community building, even between individuals with differentlevels of expertise. Support networks spring up rapidly around popular games through on-lineforums and other social networks. (Gee, 2004). These forums serve as effective informal learningenvironments that allow players of different ages and experience to rapidly become more proficient. Games thus spontaneously form structures similar to learning communities, which havesignificant positive impact on retention (Hotchkiss, Moore, & Pitts, 2006; Tinto, 1998).Learning O-O as a facet of learning computational thinking has implications not only for skills incomputing but also for other fields of study and in general problem-solving, although this arearequires further research.Our exploration raises several research issues for pedagogy related to RDGC. Although there issome documented evidence, there is need for rigorous empirical studies to understand how goodthe learning of O-O concepts is when this approach is used. There is also a need for effectivepedagogic models and best practices for the use of this approach in the classroom. Other issuesthat emerge include research into the use of pre-built template games for imparting domainspecific knowledge and O-O skills. We need to explore the types of games that appeal to differentkinds of users in order to facilitate the building of an effective RDGC pedagogic framework.ConclusionA large body of research from multiple fields demonstrates the power of digital games in learning. In this paper, we have focused on learning that occurs from making rapid games using rapidgame generation software. Computing education needs more innovative ways of instruction. Webelieve that rapid digital game creation has the potential to be an effective pedagogical model inIS and computing courses. Based on our exploration, RDGC holds promise as an important partof what may be called a “games first” approach to introductory programming (Leutenegger &Edgington, 2007). We have cited some empirical work done in this field but there is a need formore systematic studies of the relationships between different aspects of learning and RDGCbased pedagogies.RDGC is also a useful pedagogic tool for other academic areas and not just content areas that require computer programming. Game construction and game playing provides more flexibilitysince it uses a variety of objects and scenarios in an interactive environment. Curriculum designers must consider the inclusion of RDGC in a variety of courses as O-O thinking has value outside of computing. Providing students with pre-designed games templates and guiding them tobuild computer games rapidly constitutes a creative approach for increasing interest in the computing disciplines.AcknowledgementsWe thank Praveen Kuruvada and Daniel Asamoah for their assistance during an earlier phase ofthis work.ReferencesBabcock, P., & Marks, M. (2010). Leisure College USA: The decline in student study time. American Enterprise Institute.Bayliss, J. D., & Strout, S. (2006). Games as a “Flavor” of CS1. SIGCSE'06, Houston, Texas, USA.245

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Dalal, Kak, & SohoniSolomon, J. (1994). The rise and fall of constructivism. Studies in Science Education, 23, 1-19.Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously. Review ofHigher Education 21(2), 167-177.Topi, H., Valacich, J. S., Kaiser, K., Nunamaker, Jr., J. F., Sipior, J. C., de Vreede, G. J., & Wright, R. T.(2010). IS 2010: Curriculum guidelines for undergraduate degree programs in information systems.Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 26. Article 18. Available at:, J. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3).Wright, J. (2007). Thinking object-oriented. Retrieved November 20, 2011 edBiographiesNikunj Dalal is Professor of Management Science and InformationSystems in the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma

rooms (used to implement different levels of the game), sounds, backgrounds, and others. Figure 2 shows a screen shot from a prototype Pong game created using Game Maker. The Pong game was designed as an aid to illustrate O-O concepts. The time it takes to crea