A College of Engineering professor is defying the cliche that “computer games will rot your mind.” In fact David Chesney is teaching U-M undergraduates fundamental programming skills and then challenging them to create socially relevant computer games with therapeutic value. Recently his students have begun to develop games and apps for children with autism, cerebral palsy, and brachial plexus palsy to name a few.
“My students need to work on real-world projects, so I can either come up with some contrived project or we can come up with projects that do something good,” Chesney says.
One of his classes is actually named Gaming for the Greater Good. And last semester participants in Software Engineering 481 whittled down 50 ideas to two release-worthy games that Chesney hopes to see in wide distribution one day. “The landscape is so huge,” he says. “There is a lifetime of work we could do just related to autism.”
The students worked directly with autistic children at Eastern Michigan University’s Autism Collaborative Center, which treats patients across the autism spectrum. They were able to test the efficacy of their design ideas in real time in an effort to maximize each game’s therapeutic value. The goal is to produce cost-effective tools that will improve the children’s focus, motor skills, and social interactions.
“It’s pretty magical that this class teaches people you can go out and make money, work in industry, and you can also do good,” says Jacqueline Kaufman, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. “I just think it’s really cool.”