Game created at WJU a national finalist

WHEELING – The “Selene” video game created by the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University has been named a finalist in the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

The National Science Foundation and the journal Science created the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge to celebrate the grand tradition of science visualization and to encourage its continued growth. The spirit of the competition is to communicate science, engineering and technology for education and journalistic purposes.

“Selene: A Lunar Construction Game” is one of the top 10 finalists in the games and apps category of the challenge. Entries are scored by a panel of judges representing a variety of fields, including scientists, engineers, film producers and graphic artists who are chosen jointly by NSF and the journal Science Winners are expected to be announced later this month and will be featured in an upcoming issue of the journal..

The first version of the game was a semifinalist in the 2007 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

The award-winning game originally was funded by NASA to study how to best use video games in the teaching of NASA science concepts.

The current version of the game is now part of the NSF-funded CyGaMEs project, an approach to instructional game design and embedded assessment.

“Earning honors as one of the 10 games or apps finalists internationally earns CyGaMEs and the “Selene” game the kind of credibility that speaks to educators and the public,” said Debbie Denise Reese, senior educational researcher at the Center for Educational Technologies and principal investigator for the project. “This recognition goes beyond our reach through research publications in professional journals or awards from professional organizations. It opens the opportunity for more students to benefit from “Selene”-and perhaps engage with science in school and beyond.”

In the game, players learn difficult geological concepts like accretion, differentiation, impact cratering and volcanism by applying these science concepts to help players move toward the game’s goal of building the Earth’s Moon. Players construct the Moon, then blast it with impact craters and flood it with lava to experience how our Moon formed and changed over time. The game tracks each player’s behavior to measure learning and the player’s response to the game environment.

The game features the work of three scientists. Reese created the assessment and instructional concepts of “Selene” and has earned national awards for the game’s design. Chuck Wood, director of the center, is a lunar scientist who spent years with NASA training shuttle astronauts on lunar observation, and operates the Lunar Photo of the Day website. He guides players through “Selene” in a series of video segments that explain the Moon’s geological history.

Barbara Tabachnick, professor emerita of psychology at Cal State Northridge, has served as a consultant throughout the project. She has earned the lifetime achievement award from the Western Psychological Association for her 40 years as a research design/statistical consultant.

“Our research shows that the CyGaMEs approach to instructional game design offers a great opportunity for learners to wrestle with challenging Earth and space science concepts targeted by the Next Generation Science Standards and the Framework for Science Education,” Reese said. CyGaMEs offers authentic, performance-based assessment, she added. “We can actually show players and educators what students learn and when.”

“Selene” debuted its Spanish language version this fall.

“Because the game is now bilingual,” Reese said, “it supports the type of dual language (Spanish and English) approach to teaching and assessment mandated by the federal government and organizations like the Council of Chief State Officers. We are partnering with the National Association for Bilingual Education to conduct focused work on implementing dual language games in science, technology, engineering and mathematics classrooms.”

Both versions of the game are free online and available 24-7. Players ages 9-18 and adult recruiters, who confirm players’ ages, get parental consent and gather other players, are always needed to help with the CyGaMEs research. To sign up as a recruiter or play “Selene,” visit or send an e-mail to