[Edu-sig] Acadmic gender gap (was Thoughts)

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Tue Dec 7 23:17:18 CET 2004

> What that impact is, and whether is "good" or "bad", can only be a
> polticized conclusion - as there are no objective criteria for what is
> good and what is bad in this realm.
> We are on our own.
> Why is there such discomfort with that prospect?

I can live with it.

One aspect of today's video games that I think may be somewhat negative, is
they just blow us away with their breakthrough sophistication.  Some kid
sitting in front of a Pygame console, manual open, just doesn't feel this is
the cockpit of the same airplane, or even the same species of vehicle.
"Tongue tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I" ('Learning to Fly',
Momentary Lapse of Reason, Pink Floyd).

For example, over Thanksgiving, I spent a goodly amount of time watching
over the shoulder of my friend Les as he deftly maneuvered his way through a
totalitarian world run by weird creatures from another dimension, with some
human big brother quisling doing the propaganda -- cold, Eastern European
looking towns, humans queuing for trains that never arrive, shuffling, heads
down, guards with electric truncheons, ready to beat you back if you try to
cross one of their crowd control lines.

The physics in this game has been finely tuned.  Les took me to an abandoned
playground (no children, no sounds of fun).  He picked up a cinder block and
put it on one end of a see-saw, climbed an adjacent porch, and jumped on the
other end of the see-saw.  The cinder block flew up a little (it's heavy),
and landed with a muffled thunk, kind of like the dead bodies do, elsewhere
in this game.  You can pick up just about any free object and throw it,
sometimes with the aim to kill (several at once if you're good).

Of course this virtual world is not the creation of one lone wolf coder.
This is Valve, one of the strongest coding shops in the world right now.


I think the workaround is to remind students that what we're up to is making
"cave paintings" -- simplified homomorphisms (not isomorphisms) with several
dimensions removed, and yet with enough intact analogies, enough realism, to
impart the skills, heuristics, and habits of mind, that will serve the cave
dweller well in future, as dimensions are added back.  

So learn your PyGame and SDL, and you'll be that much closer to your career
objective.  And who knows, along the way you might code some decent and fun
little open source freebies, like Frozen Bubble (a staple in Linux world).


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