Many science educators advocate conceptual or qualitative physics, the notion that physics is best taught not by mathematical formulae, but rather through experiments, labs, demonstrations, and visualizations which help students understand physical phenomena conceptually. Consistent with the Physics First curricular movement, this perspective maintains that a deep, fundamental understanding of physics provides a solid basis for future science learning. How to engage younger students in complex physics thinking is a challenge, but computer simulations provide one intriguing way to engage students in the study of abstract, complex physical phenomena. Digital technologies can immerse the learner in worlds that not only represent scientific phenomena, but behave according to the rules of physics. Simulated worlds can be programmed to behave by Newtonian or Maxwellian rules. By representing the simulation through digital gaming conventions, educators can potentially increase engagement while also fostering deeper learning, as learners engage in critical and recursive game play, whereby they generate hypotheses about the game system, develop plans and strategies, observe their results and adjust their hypotheses about the game system. Experiences in game worlds become experiences that students can draw upon in thinking about scientific worlds, using their intuitive understandings developed in simulated worlds to interpret physics problems. By representing complex scientific content through tangible, experienced nontextually-mediated representations, simulated worlds may also engage reluctant learners in the study of science.
It was under these principles that Supercharged! was designed and built. The game places students in a three dimensional environment where they must navigate a spaceship by controlling the electric charge of the ship, placing charged particles around the space. Students must carefully plan their trajectory through each level by tracing the field lines that emanate from charged objects, and in the process of doing so, develop a more hands on understanding of how charged particles interact.