Carnegie Mellon University to use ‘The Sims’ Software

The Sims screenshot The renowned video game ‘The Sims’ is going to have its characters and animations incorporated in Carnegie Mellon University’s free educational software that aims at making computer programming more enjoyable and interesting to students.

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor and director of the Alice Project said that Carnegie Mellon University will make use of the animation to liven up the next version of Alice, a teaching program developed over the past decade and used at more than 60 colleges and universities and about 100 high schools

“This is not some little crumb that got tossed. This is the most valuable intellectual property owned by the largest video game maker in the world,” Pausch said Friday. “For the intended demographic we’re trying to teach, ‘The Sims’ are more valuable than the Disney library.”

The Alice programming language is created to build abstract concepts concrete for first-time programmers, using three-dimensional images of things such as people or animals that can be controlled by clicking and dragging words with a computer mouse. Those words form a program.

While Alice has proven valuable, its characters and animation remain elementary, Pausch said. The animation is expected to alter Alice from a crude three-dimensional programming tool into a more persuasive programming environment.

The effort to update Alice is planned to enhance interest in computer programming among students, who have historically found the skill exasperating to learn.

A 2005 University of California, Los Angeles study found there had been a 50 percent drop in computer science majors over the previous four years. The proportion of women who were considering majoring in computer science fell to levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to the study.

Electronic Arts Inc., which publishes “The Sims,” wants “more women in computer science, they want more minorities in computer science … any underrepresented group,” Pausch said.

“The Sims” is an immensely popular game that lets players control virtual humans from birth until death.

Steve Seabolt, vice president of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company, said that “by marrying the characters, animations and playful style of ‘The Sims’ to Alice, we are helping make computer science fun for a new generation of creative leaders.”

Electronic Arts, the world’s largest video game publisher, has sold over 54 million units of “The Sims,” generating more than $1 billion in sales since it launched in 2000.

Work on the new version of the Alice program is expected to start as soon as possible and will go on for 18 to 24 months.