January 25, 2006

Video Game ‘Slackers’ Target of Orlando Media Fair

ORLANDO, Florida -- While many parents look at teenagers tethered to video game controls and see slackers, Dr. James "Butch" Rosser, chief of minimally invasive surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, sees potential surgeons.

Rosser says laparoscopic surgeons who have played video games can perform surgery 27 percent faster with 37 percent fewer errors. Laparascopy uses a scope to perform abdominal or pelvic operations through a small incision.

Rosser's video game skills study, and his "Top Gun 4 Kids" surgical skills games, are one of the features of Otronicon, a unique 10-day digital media festival under way this week in Orlando, Florida.

The festival, targeting 11- to 18-year-olds, has the long-range strategy of building a trained local work force that can grapple with future digital technology business.

"Otronicon has a very unabashed mission of using stealth learning," says Dr. Brian Tonner, a university physics professor turned Orlando Science Center president who staged the event with the backing of the local economic development community.

"Video games are the hook to get kids and their parents in here. But once they're here, they're surrounded by the educational component."

Like many mid-sized metropolitan areas, Orlando dreams of becoming the next great high-tech center.

Otronicon's mission is to steer more middle- and high-school students into the math and science classes they will need for future digital media careers.

"It's kind of the chicken and egg situation," said Trent Flood, spokesman for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. "At the same time we're trying to attract additional business investment, we're also needing to encourage new college level programming and we also need to encourage students to consider that for their future career options."

Thus, school field trips are scheduled to bring in more than 1,100 Orlando-area middle and high school students to get a taste of the science and technology of game development in workshops created by Full Sail Real World Education, an Orlando-based media arts college.

In the evenings, Full Sail is addressing parental concerns in workshops on subjects such as violence in video games, and attempting to attract more girls to the field through a special "4-part Girls 'N Games" program. Throughout the event, visitors get to try out cutting edge military, medical and commercial simulators rarely available to the general public that are being showcased by local business.

Festival organizers expect a total attendance of 10,000, many lured by opportunities to play on more than 100 gaming stations, appearances by a Dance Dance Revolution champion who lost 40 pounds (18 kg) playing the game, a planned Cyber-Triathlon and final tournament rounds played on a giant screen.

"While they're having fun, they're also spoonfeeding them this concept that math and science is very important and there is a real world application for those science classes that they didn't necessarily realize," Flood said.

"Not everyone who comes in the door is going to get it," said Tonner. "But some will."