The Learning Game

I’m sure all of us have read a fair number of posts about the negative effects of gaming (it promotes violence and a desire to drag people out of their cars and beat them up, apparently. We kids have brains too, you know! And if you say otherwise, I’ll shoot you! I saw it in a videogame!). People quite entirely ignore the positive effects of gaming in these posts. So, to counterbalance all the flak gaming’s been getting, here’s a little bit about the good side of gaming. 

Now, I’m sure all of us have heard of this one before, but I’ll bring it up anyway just to remind you of it.Video games improve hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination basically means the ability to move your hands in reaction to input from your eyes (because you totally wouldn’t have guessed that from the name, would you?). Video games call upon you to do this almost continuously, whether you’re shooting at a guy because he has a different ideology from you (die, <insert alternative ideology here> scum!) or coordinating with other players to build amazing things as in the case of a game which I can’t mention here because of copyright issues (its name rhymes with Sinecraft). I imagine that this is partially why surgeons play video games before going in to perform surgeries. 

Video games are great for a lot of other things, as well. Coming home from a hard day’s work and blowing up pixelly baddies is a great way to unwind/chill, and you can’t tell me that launching a blue shell at that incredibly frustrating chap in first place isn’t a great way to bond with friends. Casual games are also a great way to just kill time – we all enjoy a good game of Candy Crush on the bus ride home.

However, this blog isn’t called, “The Advantages of Video Games,” and I think I’ve rambled on for long enough, so let’s get down to brass tacks: what can we learn from video games (other than that the surest way to deal with problems is to shoot at them)? I learned quaternions, the bezier algorithm, inverse kinematics and vector calculus entirely because of a video game called Garry’s Mod (I learned them because I wanted to build a robot – called a mech, incidentally). And that’s without even getting into all the things you learn if you get into developing games (kinematics, lighting, diffusion, colours, vectors and suchlike).

The calculations involved were almost entirely to make the two legs of the mech move. At first, I tried to make the legs move by calculating a bezier curve (a type of curve) and making the legs follow those. The problem was, doing it that way didn’t take into account the hillocks in the ground, so the feet were liable to go right into the ground. So obviously, the legs would have to move within the constraints of in-game physics. A better way to do it was to calculate a sine wave instead of the bezier and use only the positive values to get a more realistic walk. Using some calculus, you can offset the forces of gravity and air drag which act on the feet. Calculus also keeps the feet from spinning off in random directions every time they knock into something. One of the things you get in the gaming engine is a vector perpendicular to the ground at any given point. Crossing that with the horizontal direction of the foot, you can calculate the direction the foot should be facing. And converting that to quaternions helps avoid Gimbal lock. That”s a lot of maths to build a mech.

Here’s another thing I discovered: I understood gamers explaining these concepts better than I understood others who did the same. For example, while learning about quaternions, I needed to understand imaginary numbers. I read lots of sites which claimed to explain them in a simple manner and yet somehow managed not to understand anything. Then, I read an article by a gamer, and his explanation made perfect sense. I went back to all the maths sites and did the problems to test my understanding, and surprisingly, I was able to answer all of them. I had a similar experience with all of the other concepts I had to wrap my head around. I now would rather learn concepts from blogs than from sites dedicated to them.

So, while you, dear reader, may sit around blaming video games for violence and crime and Donald Trump’s degree of success in the presidential elections, I’m sitting around learning math concepts because of them. All in all, video games, like so many things in life, are exactly what you make of them. Blog endings, too.

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