Program turns current events into video games

September 6, 2010 2:54:54 PM PDT
There is a new tool for local college students. Not only does it offer them the chance to play video games, but also learn about real life events.

A college classroom, some social consciousness, plus fun and games equals Petlab.

"What we're trying to do here is design all kinds of games that have a kind of learning or civic outcome," Petlab director Colleen Macklin said.

Based at Parsons-The New School of Design, the research project is believed to be the first-ever laboratory for creating games that are devoted to current issues, like the actual ball game called, "Budgetball," with rules that teach students about the federal budget deficit.

"The game itself really creates a physical understanding of the advantages of going into debt, but then what needs to happen in order to pay it off," Macklin said. "The sacrifices that entails."

A card game developed by Petlab research in flood-prone areas of Africa deals with strategies for persistent flooding.

"For instance, evacuate or replace chickens with ducks," Macklin said. "Ducks float, chickens don't."

A book called "Mannahatta" ( has led to a game that lets students visualize the plants and wildlife that inhabited Manhattan 400 years ago.

An interactive feature lets players collect points by walking around the borough and matching current locations with the vegetation or animals that were there in the year 1610.

"People tend to learn a lot more when they have an active interest in it, and this is a great time to do that, you know," grad student Thom Hines said. "Games are fun."

Petlab is expected to be around for a long time, driven by the idea that even some of the most serious issues facing our world today are worth creating a game about to help us understand them better.

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