If you're asking industry heavyweights to make a video to fire up kids about math and science, it's probably no surprise that the video game maker is the one getting the most views.
There's nothing on the line in this informal competition - maybe bragging rights. But Activision Blizzard's three minute spot for Change the Equation, a White House educational initiative, shows the games industry's reach and its value as a voice to which younger generations will listen. It's more than good PR for Activision or its New York-based studio, Vicarious Visions, whose developers star in the video. It shows public policymakers that games makers are as interested in the future of the country as an major industry, and know they have a special responsibility given their status with younger Americans.
"Totally, that responsibility has always been there," Karthik Bala, who cofounded Vicarious Visions with his brother, Guha, when they were 14 and 15, respectively. "We were a bunch of geeks then, and proud of it. We feel a huge responsibility to encourage kids to like science and math, to get into it, and to do some really cool things with it."
And what's cooler than video games? Bala asked rhetorically. Change the Equation focuses on science, technology, engineering and math; video games offer the application of those disciplines for artistic purposes. Games themselves, Bala added, can also be a unique teaching tool.
"In video games, you go through learning and practicing and mastering, from beating a level to beating a game, that's the process you go through," he said. "It's an incredibly powerful teaching tool, one that's not really used all that much. There are a lot of positive things that can happen, coming from video games."
Change The Equation, begun by the Obama administration last year, has 100 member companies signed on to help promote its agenda of improving science education across all grade levels, deepening enthusiasm for it among students and rallying support from the business community. Activision/Blizzard isn't the only games company in the partnership; Epic Games is a member as well, and so is Microsoft.
Vicarious Visions has been reaching out to schools before this, too. Bala says his developers have visited Albany-area schools in the past, knowing that telling kids about their jobs making video games grabs their attention for other lessons about science. "When you're talking to fourth or fifth graders, they'll tell you what games they like, and, you know, what games suck," Bala said. "They say 'This racer's bad, because it's not realistic.' And you ask, 'How do you know that? You haven't even driven a car.'
"But you continue the conversation, and they learn that the physics modelling is what makes it realistic, and then the light bulb starts going off," Bala said. "Because they've never thought about it in a way that takes something in the abstract and makes it concrete."