By Victoria Vaughan
WHAT started as a science project for two Catholic High School students has grown into a possible opportunity to work with a researcher from abroad.
Looi Qin En and Mitchell Tan, both 16, were the only students to present a research paper at the International Conference of Advanced Computer Entertainment in Japan last December.
But that did not stop them from making their mark among the 150 researchers, game developers, artists and designers with their paper on gamers and what keeps them playing.
Courted by a number of researchers, they now hope to further their research with a researcher from a university in Madrid.
The pair started by doing well in the Education Ministry's Science Mentorship Programme (SMP), which gives up to $500 to secondary school students for a project in one of 13 areas, ranging from computing to medicine and health.
Under the mentorship of scientists from tertiary institutions and professional organisations over 5-1/2 months, these students produce a paper which they present at the Youth Science Conference.
In the past 17 years, 2,500 students have been through the SMP, which aims to fan an interest and develop talents in scientific research.
Eighteen schools are in the SMP.
Because Qin En and Mitchell shone at the Youth Science Conference, they were recommended for the conference in Yokohama in a trip sponsored by the Education Ministry.
In their paper to the international audience, Qin En and Mitchell offered the thesis that communication is what engages gamers. They 'feel obliged to play as they are interacting with others', said Qin En.
He explained that two of the most popular games here - World Of Warcraft and MapleStory - have in-game chat systems which players use for dialogues with other players.
The researcher they hope to work with is Mr Pablo Moreno-Ger, who is seeking to develop games which students can use as a learning tool. Their tie-up with him has not been finalised.
Mr Moreno-Ger is from the Department of Software Engineering & Artificial Intelligence in Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). The department's e-UCM unit researches into learning technologies and e-learning.
Qin En, who takes his O levels this year, said: 'We can act as the middlemen because, through our research methods, scientists can understand the minds of students - and we are students ourselves.'
He noted that gaming has not been successfully incorporated into learning in schools, so 'maybe we can change that'.
The duo's SMP mentor, Ms See Swee Lan, assistant head of department of Human Language Technology at the Institute for Infocomm Research, was impressed by the 'meticulousness, creativity and confidence shown' in the boys' work.
She said the project gave them research and development work experience, and sharpened their problem-solving, project management, presentation and team-building skills.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.