Game challenges interactive mind

May 13, 2004, vol. 30 no. 2
By Terry Lavender

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What's the connection between Sherlock Holmes and the discovery of the electron? How was Napoleon Bonaparte important to the development of the modern computer?

Those are some of the questions that students in Steve DiPaola's fourth-year course in immersive environments pose in an interactive computer game they're developing in collaboration with James Burke, former host of the popular science television series, Connections.

DiPaola and his students at the school of interactive arts and technology are collaborating with Burke on Knowledge World (K-World). Burke describes Knowledge World as a project that tries to explore information in interconnected, interactive ways, allowing for almost infinite numbers of paths of exploration among people, places, things, and events.

For example, the connection between Sherlock Holmes and the discovery of the electron, or Napoleon and the computer. (The electron's discoverer, J.J. Thomson, and Sherlock Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle were both members of the Psychic Society. Napoleon's troops in Egypt bought shawls, starting a craze for the shawls. In Europe the shawls were made on automated, perforated-paper-control looms. This gave U.S. engineer Herman Hollerith the idea to automate calculation using punch cards, which were later used to control ENIAC, the first electronic computer.)

Specifically, the SFU Surrey group has created a prototype of a multi-user web-based game in which players can explore the K-World space and make connections of their own between different historical events and individuals. The prototype was demonstrated at the SFU Surrey open house on April 21.

“The K-World prototype promotes use of innovative thinking, whether in an academic or organizational context,” says Michael Kiktavy, one of DiPaola's students. “It provides users with interesting and appealing ways of thinking about learning material in terms of relational connections and interdependencies. The applications and possibilities are literally limitless.”

The class also created a three-dimensional web-based environment for the game, using Adobe Atmosphere software. Adobe is partnering with SFU on the project.

For more information, about K-World, visit For information about the immersive environments class project, see

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