The world’s most popular video game has been teaching kids how to program for the past decade.
But the game’s popularity has been on the decline, as children struggle to master the complex math required to solve complex puzzles and build sophisticated, interactive worlds.
Now, researchers say that a new generation of kids may be in the process of learning how to code.
The game, called Kerbal Space Program, has been around since 2007, and is an open-source program that allows kids to design and build their own space missions.
In a study published in the journal Science Advances, researchers looked at the demographics of the Kerbal community in order to see how different races, genders and ethnicities might be able to learn how to create, run and launch a rocket and space station.
Researchers found that young people of various races, gender identities and ethnic groups were able to get up to speed with the game as the first year progressed.
They were able “to solve problems faster, create better games, and get into a deeper understanding of math, programming, physics, and game theory,” the study says.
“We find that even for people who are at least somewhat experienced, people of different races and genders are able to grasp a great deal of math and game-specific skills in the first few years,” lead author Andrew Segal, a computer science graduate student at Georgia Tech, told Science News.
Segal added that the findings suggest that, while the game may have been helpful to those who were already comfortable with coding, it was not helpful for younger children.
“In fact, the difference between the older kids and younger kids was significant.
They weren’t as proficient in solving math problems as the kids who had been using the game, and their games were more difficult and took longer to finish,” he said.
The study also showed that while people from different ethnic groups and genders were able as young children to learn the math, it took time for the children of different ethnicities to catch up.
“The most important lesson that we can learn is that while children with a higher level of literacy can make some really good games, there are some barriers that prevent them from being able to make good games for the younger generations,” Segal said.
He continued, “The most challenging things for these kids are math problems, which can take ages to solve and can be quite complex.
We think there are many ways that we could be addressing this, and that we need to do it together.”
He concluded by saying that it is likely that, if the game were to be popular, that it could encourage more children to play and learn.
“There’s a lot of potential for this game to be something that can be used as an interactive curriculum to teach kids that they can code,” he added.