Can children learn particle physics?

A new game was launched in Finland at the end of last year: Big Bang Legends.

The idea behind it is simple, to have kids learning whilst also having fun playing a game.

This thinking has of course been applied before; there are numerous apps and online ‘games’ which pretend to be fun but often throw out quizzes and test players on what they have learned in the ‘game’ – comparable to when your school teacher puts on a video and everyone cheers but it turns out the video is actually educational and just as boring as the lesson.

However, this game seems different. The creators behind it are mostly ex-Angry Birds, one of the most addictive and popular games on the app store for a long time. Big Bang Legends is therefore primarily a game, it wants you to PLAY. Level up and destroy the monsters, and have a good time doing it.

The educational part comes from the fact that kids are learning about particle physics without even realising it, as an afterthought. The game was advised by a research scientist at CERN and a physics professor from Helsinki, and so includes genuine truths and facts about atoms. The physics is so cleverly incorporated into the game that during one test on a class of 10-year-olds, one girl said she ‘didn’t learn anything’ from playing the game. And then the entire class were able to identify how many quarks are in a proton.

The game asks players to collect quarks, build protons, create and collect cute atom characters from the protons, and then use their heroes to destroy dark matter. The idea is ingenious. Kids will be unconsciously learning how many protons the first 10 elements have. The game will demystify quarks, turning them from an abstract physics term into particles that are used to build protons and then atoms. Kids will become comfortable with physics terminology and also with ideas such as nuclear fusion. When the teacher brings out a periodic table they might not scream.

Particle physics is hard to understand, it is so different from the normal physical laws of the world we know that many scientists struggle with the slight suspension of disbelief that it entails. With the introduction of this game it could literally become child’s play.

Okay so that may be taking it a bit far, but the point is that the game will normalise and familiarise some really complicated science. The company behind it are already planning their next game based on physics and chemistry, and maybe even moving into languages for the one after that.

Big Bang Legends is not available anywhere but Finland and the Philippines yet, but I can’t wait to play it! And for students, an hour spent ‘doing my physics homework’ sounds way better than an hour ‘playing on my phone’ (just saying).

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