Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Serious Work Teaching Via Games; Computer Gaming Has Grown Up. Technology Developed to Amuse and Entertain Is Also Being Used as a Tool to Educate and Inform, as Karen Dent Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Serious Work Teaching Via Games; Computer Gaming Has Grown Up. Technology Developed to Amuse and Entertain Is Also Being Used as a Tool to Educate and Inform, as Karen Dent Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Dent

THE North East is rightly recognised as a hub for computer games makers and the region is also a highly-regarded player in the more 'serious' side of gaming, using new technology as a tool for learning.

Applications are being used in the classroom to teach maths, physics, history and languages, as well as training working adults in the public and private sectors. These so-called serious games are used as educational tools by governments, the military and in the corporate, advertising, healthcare and emergency response worlds.

Carri Cunliffe, head of sector development at Code works Game Horizon, the business network for videogame companies in the North East, said: "They're now big business. There are hundreds of businesses developing games for the market, which Microsoft has valued at EUR9bn - including major concerns such as IBM and Microsoft itself - and the sector is likely to continue its rapid growth over the coming years.

"Games can be used to teach practically any subject, to inspire, to analyse and to promote. In the North East we have a strong games industry, so it's no surprise to find that the region is home to a few companies working in this field."

Northumberland's UK Haptics is at the forefront of harnessing virtual reality applications for use in the health sector. The business produces a training tool called Virtual Veins, which allows health professionals to practise injecting patients. It is also working on a dialysis tool and an ultrasound system.

The systems will be used by a number of NHS trusts from January, including Newcastle Dental School, Torbay PCT and the Leicester RVI Renal Unit, which will work with the company to finish developing the product.

The Rothbury-based business is also expecting its own injection of more than pounds 1m in the new year from private equity backers to further develop its groundbreaking ideas, which use photo-realistic images of body parts. "We are trailblazing. We are pioneering - but the problem with pioneers is that you get arrows in your hat!" said managing director Gary Todd.

"There isn't anybody else who does it.

There is a German company which uses similar technology but we are much more broad-based.

"We produce various body bits. What we have developed is a series of tools which allow people to learn different types of vascular access - basically sticking needles into people.

"We programme a tool so you can effectively touch the image and feel the needle pop the skin."

Mr Todd, a former mechanical engineer, employs 14 people between UK Haptics and sister company Firstline Interactive Systems.

"I did a degree in computer science at Northumbria University. All of the people who work for us are graduates of North East universities," he said.

"We are looking to go up to 20 to 25 people in the next couple of years but that depends on demand."

North East educational gaming company Caspian Learning, which recently raised pounds 1.5m from private equity backers, is now expanding from its Sunderland base into the US.

It is close to setting up an office, likely to be on the US East Coast, and in pushing ahead with the launch of a new product from there before the end of the year. …

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