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May 30, 2013

MSU, MIT join forces to develop game to teach physics

Michigan State University and MIT have joined forces to develop “OpenRelativity,” a tool designed to allow game developers and educators to play with and demonstrate the visual effects of special relativity.

Devised by Albert Einstein in the early 20th century, special relativity is a theory describing how matter moves through time and space.

OpenRelativity is used to show what travelers would see as they approach the speed of light, specifically by allowing the speed of light to be set to lower speeds.

Students and teachers of special relativity have very little in the way of tangible demonstrations, and are typically expected to develop understanding solely through the reading and working of theoretical problems.

Intended for game developers, educators and anyone interested in physics, OpenRelativity can help people create, test and share experiments to explore the effects of special relativity.

The ultimate goal of the game, said Gerd Kortemeyer, an associate professor of physics education in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College and one of the game developers, is to introduce students to the theory of special relativity and teach them more about the fundamentals of physics.

He said OpenRelativity can help educators create new demonstrations to provide an intuitive, useful understanding of a dense and complex topic.

“Through making and playing games with OpenRelativity, we hope that people develop an intuition about relativity," he said.

OpenRelativity was designed for the Unity game development environment as an open source library and can be downloaded from

The first game using the tool is A Slower Speed of Light. Developed by the MIT Game Lab, it is available at


By: Tom Oswald