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Making Games to Teach Physics and Mechanics

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Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference



Publication Date

April 9, 2021

Start Date

April 9, 2021

End Date

April 10, 2021

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David I. Schwartz Rochester Institute of Technology (GCCIS) Orcid 16x16

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David I. Schwartz, Ph.D. has been working in the academic field of game design and development since 2001 when he founded the Game Design Initiative at Cornell University. In 2007, Schwartz moved to the Rochester Institute of Technology. He was part of the founding department in 2009, which became the School of Interactive Games and Media in 2011. After receiving tenure in 2011, he became IGM's Director in 2015. His research focus is on cyber security games, geogames, and physically-based animation.

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Instead of learning through games, what if a student could learn physics “the other way around” by learning how to implement physics in games? I continue to meet engineering educators who are still discovering how the entertainment world has treated physical simulations, especially as they have become very realistic-looking. A quick search in YouTube for SIGGRAPH and “fluid simulation,” “soft-body physics,” and related terms yields striking results (eg, Normally, when thinking of teaching physics, especially mechanics, games have been incredible, as a quick Internet search of “game-based learning” and “physics” will demonstrate. In my approach in a class on “Game Physics,” my non-engineering students tackle engineering mechanics by building applications.

In the proposed paper, I would introduce and motivate game physics for an engineering educator via the more general field of physically-based animation, which is sometimes taught as upper-level electives in computing departments. As part of this work, I plan to summarize some key published research articles that offer surprising applications, eg. Darth Vader in “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” leaving a path of destruction via real-time finite elements for fracture mechanics (; actually, I think I can see the back of my head) and the octopus Hank getting stretched and contorted in “Finding Dory” using closed-form elasticity equations (; and yes, I was there, too).

Next, I would explain the flow of topics with some examples of explaining how one thinks of engineering mechanics in a computational sense—how principles of kinematics, conservation laws, and even tensors become algorithms and code. Students work on prototypes, the occasional paper assignment, and a final project, all which I would review. The student population is relatively small compared to typical first-year physics and second-year mechanics, but I still can provide summarized feedback followed by an explanation of continuing and future work. I will also introduce readers to the complete code library in GitHub’s open-source repository.

Schwartz, D. I. (2021, April), Making Games to Teach Physics and Mechanics Paper presented at Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference, Virtual . 10.18260/1-2--36308

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