Brainworth Takes to Kickstarter to Fund Video Game-Based Higher Education

By Michael Carney , written on September 28, 2012

From The News Desk

Many software developers and engineers get an early introduction to computers through gaming. One Australian startup, Brainworth, is taking this idea to its natural conclusion by developing a video game environment to deliver online education. The company, whose mantra is "make education playable," is starting with teaching video game development and university-level computer science skills, but the long term subject matter options are endless.

Earlier this week, Brainworth launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the next phase of its development. The company is seeking to raise $100,000, and is nearly $16,000 of the way home with 22 days left.

“One-on-one education is so much better than classroom based learning, but we don't have 7 billion people to tutor the other 7 billion on the planet,” the company’s campaign page reads. “We turned to the best one-on-one experience available – video games – and we're using them to make education much more efficient and enjoyable.”

The majority of Brainworth’s 187 backers have signed up at the $19 “Early Bird Special” level (regularly $25), which offers early access to its first HTML5 gaming course. Slightly larger contributions offer t-shirts and posters of the truly beautiful gaming environment. At the $500 level, where it has one current backer committed, Brainworth will permanently name an island within its gaming environment after the donor. All prizes at this level are scheduled for March 2013 delivery.

At the $10,000 level, its highest offered and one where it already has one backer, the company is targeting hiring companies and offers to work directly with the backer to source a high performing HTML5 engineer from among its game makers.

This hints at one of the company’s longer term ambitions, which is to become a feeder of talent to technology companies around the world. With a virtual classroom and a living gaming environment into which student submit their work, the company can measure and rate the progress and abilities of each student in ways that hiring companies have never had access to.

The company has developed the virtual world through which its students will navigate and is working to build content specific lessons. it has released a series of technology demo’s on the subjects of behaviour trees, artificial neural networks, and path-finding algorithms with more to come throughout the campaign.

Through game mechanics and social psychology, brainworth is able to keep students engaged, sharing, and learning. Each HTML5 web-game produced by Brainworth will be equivalent to a 13 week university course, according to the company, and will teach players to develop games through playing them.

Players (students) can choose the topics that they want to discover, and through each game’s narrative and visual metaphors, they’re likely to learn faster and retain more. The games are designed to be applicable to a variety of skill levels, including beginners and experienced programmers.

Each videogame level becomes its own productivity showcase, with the results of a student’s work living within the game. Students can, for example, program a snake that will live on within the game. Brainworth tracks each student’s progress toward a specific goal, and tailors the learning experience to that individual needs. Through built in social tools, students within the game can see one another’s work, collaborate, and offer guidance.

“Learning to work together is one of the most valuable things we can learn, yet today's education sees it as cheating,” Brainworth writes on its Kickstarter page. “We will never penalise you for helping each other, or asking for help. Instead we'll reward you for helping others and give you multiple ways to pick up the same skills.”

The company, which is founded by two recent college graduates, Ben Sand and Dave Wilcox, recruited more than 50 people to volunteer their services as artists, actors, costume designers, camera operators, editors, sound technicians, writers, directors, game designers, and programmers.

The company has also assembled an impressive roster of beta testers and crowdsourced content creators from elite computer science programs including those at Caltech, Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, UT Austin, Carnegie Mellon, University of Sydney (Australia), and University of NSW (Australia).

In addition to the capital raised through Kickstarter, Brainworth has been awarded an interactive media grant by the New South Wales government to complete its artificial intelligence content.

Brainworth certainly faces an uphill climb over the next 22 days to convince backers to fund their ambitious educational vision. But as the company says in its promotional video, education is changing for good, whether we like it or not. It’s going to require tools like Brainworth to remove the shackles of physical classrooms and lecture-based hands-off learning. This project is an opportunity to get ahead of that speeding train and switch the tracks, setting a new course for the future of education.