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Video Games That Matter

The son of a first-grade teacher and a manufacturing engineer, Nicholas Baker '03 has the perfect blend of right and left brain acumen. Baker takes his duality in stride, finishing his double major--in philosophy and computer science--with honors this spring at WPI. Still, even he was surprised to be named a Marshall Scholar last fall. "I thought it was a shot in the dark," says Baker, who will use the prize (valued at $60,000) to earn two master's degrees (in computer games technology and digital games design) at Liverpool John Moores University in Great Britain starting next fall.

"I grew up playing video games," says Baker, who admits most games tend to promote themes of conflict, pitting good guys against bad guys in often violent scenarios. "I think there is opportunity to reach people with a message of activism using video games." Baker wants to create video games that give players the responsibility of making moral choices about contemporary social problems.

During Baker's interactive project in London last year, he helped develop two Web-based video games for Science Year (now Planet Science). "Climbin' High" is a rock climbing adventure in which players must study the environment and think analytically about survival in order to win. "Feed the Mind" gets players involved in the process of invention and creative inspiration.

"I came to WPI to get a solid technical background without being forced into a 'cookie-cutter' computer science degree," says Baker. "I was surprised at the opportunity to study philosophy at the same time."

The Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks for U.S. assistance during WWII under the Marshall Plan. The idea was to build on the Rhodes Scholarships but with fewer restrictions on gender, age, and place of study. In addition to intellectual excellence, Marshall Scholars are recognized for their ability to be leaders in their field and make contributions to society. Baker was chosen as one of 40 from a highly competitive field of about 1,000 applicants.

As the first-ever Marshall scholar from WPI, Baker, a native of Milford, N.H., joins an elite rank of past honorees, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer, Duke University president Nannerl Keohane, as well as Pulitzer prize-winning authors and noted inventors. Baker, too, seems bound to leave his mark on the world--of video games.
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Last modified: Sep 02, 2004, 10:07 EDT
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