Wednesday, 07 November 2012

Online games hook into education about hearing damage with fun

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ipod headphones“The key is to not explicitly let the players know that they are being educated, but to let the learning happen as a side effect of playing the game and having fun.”— Mr Riggs. Image: Jake BellucciAN online video game is helping young children to understand and protect themselves against the dangers of prolonged exposure to loud noise.

The game, Epic Ear Defence, which allows students to do battle in a virtual ear canal, is the completed project for four Murdoch University students, their lecturer, Shri Rai and development by Perth’s Ear Science Institute Australia (ESIA).

According to Peter Riggs, one of the students involved in the project, the challenge was in making the game not only educational, but also entertaining.

“Creating a game to teach kids about the dangers of noise induced hearing loss was a huge challenge, as we insisted the game had to be fun and engaging, otherwise it would simply not be effective,” he says.

“The key is to not explicitly let the players know that they are being educated, but to let the learning happen as a side effect of playing the game and having fun.

Players are introduced to two dimensional, stylised diagram of the human auditory system acting as a ‘shield’ or ‘health bar.’

During game play, the player is able to see how loud sound would vibrate the bones of the inner ear, and eventually permanently damage the hair cells in the cochlea – thus reducing the player’s ‘health’.

“Players would only need to glance at this diagram occasionally throughout the game to keep track of their ‘health,’ he says.

“Yet over a ten minute period, players would become familiar with the basics of how the human auditory system works, and gain an intuitive understanding of how exposure to loud sounds has an irreversible negative effect on our hearing.”

According to ESIA Director, Professor Marcus Atlas, the project is a great example of distinctive work being produced by his team and other organisations, and emphasised the importance of this work reaching young people.

“Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities, costing the Australian economy over $20 billion a year,” he says.

“Listening to loud music at maximum volume on a device like an iPod or similar devices can cause irreversible hear damage in less than four minutes, so it’s important to teach kids about how to protect their hearing.”

According to Mr Riggs, the use of games in the science and health industry can have a positive effect, particularly in the areas of education and experience, for example, games helping to address sexual education for teenagers.

The free game can be accessed from the ESIA’s Cheers for Ears website.

Mr Riggs, who graduated in September and is now employed as a software engineer, completed the project with fellow students, Jonothan Tennant, Tyler Munro and Bach Nguyen.

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