Unreal Development Kit and The Gun.

A scene from a created game level - Sandstorm
UDK in game scene

I’ve been working with the Unreal Development Kit for a few weeks now and I’m absolutely blown away with the possible uses of it for learning in schools. Not only can it be used to create any kind of computer game but it can also be used to animate, generate cinematic sequences, demonstrate artificial intelligence, show 3D modelling, and even create physics experiments. I would say, without doubt, it is the most powerful Games Design Software available.

The problem I see is a simple one. The default game type generated by UDK is FPS, first person shooter, a game genre where the player looks through the eyes of the protagonist to view the game world. And by default this view includes “the gun”.

Now, I personally, have no problem with the gun. FPS games, such as the hugely successful Call of Duty series, Rainbow Six series, Id software’s Doom III and Valve’s Half-Life are multi-million sellers generating huge revenue and providing entertainment for many hundreds of thousands of players. But should we develop games like these in schools?

My wife and I have four children, two girls and two boys; twins. We’ve never had toy guns in the house and yet, since about three, our boys have played at soldiers and shot each other many times over. Guns have been fashioned from newspaper, sticks and cardboard. Is the “play with gun” built into our society like some traditional rite of passage for small boys? Are they separating the violence of the gun from the game play? Do they know guns are bad and that sometimes bad people use them? Do they see soldiers carrying guns to protect themselves on TV news reports nearly everyday? Yes, I believe, is the answer to each of these questions so why is the gun in the game such a worry?

UDK - Lighting

UDK - Effects Editing

UDK -  Visual Scripting
UDK - Visual Scripting

UDK - Physics example
UDK - Physics example

Are we over analysing? Probably? Should we be worried that it’s “fun” to run around in a game and shoot other players?

Level editing with UDK
Level editing with UDK

If you want to engage with a predominately male game playing audience, inspire them and excite them about games design you’re not going to do it with a simple 2D game if they are in S3/S4 or above. The kids are exposed to games of near cinematic perfection…my 2D lemmings game, while fun and entertaining for a while, isn’t going to cut it in the long run. But the gun, what do we do about it?

I’m afraid that if we leave “the gun” in game the knee jerk reaction from many educationalists will be “We can’t possibly do that – it’s violent.”. Space Invaders, is violent – we blow up aliens from a distant planet, Mariocart is violent – we crash, bash and smash other cars to get in front so we can win. Is there not a level of violence, a level of overpowering our opponent(s) inherent in nearly every game? Can we, as teachers, not see past “the gun”, to the rich, 3D interactive world, elegantly light-sourced, mapped and modelled as a beautiful environment for gameplay. Can we see the problem solving skills, the design, the planning which goes into the creation of such a world?

UDK is a tool which enables pupils to create their own games with a professional finish. It is a truly amazing piece of software.

I’m working on support materials for UDK and I have resigned myself to removing “the gun” (some of the time). Why? Because I believe that games design is so important that I don’t want to give anyone an easy reason to ignore it. I think we can do amazing things in schools with these tools and empower our learners to create breathtaking digital art, games and media. And who would want “the gun” to stand in the way of that?

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