I am serving as a chair of Tyler Compton’s Honors Thesis Committee. The committee includes Dr. Srividya Bansal and myself.
Thesis defense is scheduled on April 11, 2018, 1:30 pm MST, Peralta Hall room 202.
The functional programming paradigm is able to provide clean and concise solutions to many common programming problems, as well as promote safer, more testable code by encouraging an isolation of state-modifying behavior. Functional programming is finding its way into traditionally object-oriented and imperative languages, most notably with the introduction of Java 8 and in LINQ for C#. However, no functional programming language has achieved widespread adoption, meaning that students without a formal computer science background who learn technology on-demand for personal projects or for business may not come across functional programming in a significant way. Programmers need a reason to spend time learning these concepts to not miss out on the subtle but profound benefits they provide.
I propose the use of a video game as an environment in which learning functional programming is the player’s goal. In this carefully constructed video game, learning functional programming is the key to progression. Players will be motivated to learn and will be given an immediate chance to test and demonstrate their understanding. The game, named Lambda Starship (stylized as (lambda () starship)), is a 3D first-person video game. It takes place in a spaceship that, due to extreme magnetic interference, has lost all on-board software while leaving the hardware completely intact. The player is tasked to write software using functional programming paradigms to replace the old software and bring the spaceship back to a working state. Throughout the process, the player is guided by an in-game manual and other descriptive resources. The game is implemented in Unity and scripted using C#.
The game’s educational and entertainment value was evaluated with a study case. 24 undergraduate students at Arizona State University (ASU) played the game and were surveyed detailing their experience. During play, user statistics were recorded automatically, providing a data-driven way to analyze where players struggled with the concepts introduced in the game. Reception was neutral or positive in both the entertainment and educational sides of the game. A few players expressed concerns about the manual in its form factor and engagement value.