Game Review
Garry's Mod

Complex physics sandbox is rich but daunting

  • The load screen features in-game art, including uploaded screenshots from users.

  • Players can use a dizzying number of objects and tools.

  • Use the axis tool to connect an arm to an anchor to make a simple rocket-powered watermelon catapult.

  • Attach wheels, lights, and thrusters to a basic construction block to make a vehicle controlled by user-defined keys.

  • Players can create with mirrored surfaces and adjust lighting.

Quick Take
Pros: Tons of user-generated content, realistic physics, and deep customization and building options make every playing session feel fun and new.
Cons: A steep learning curve and some violent content limits classroom accessibility.
Bottom Line: This physics sandbox ramps up the complexity but not the usability, leaving it up to the right teachers and students to unlock its benefits for math, science, and the arts.
Learning Scores
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Offers mind-boggling possibilities for building with models and art from Valve Software's hit games, along with an active user community -- but it's not designed to grab new users.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

There's spectacular potential for learning everything from physics to digital filmmaking, but it'll take an equally spectacular teacher and/or student(s).

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 2

With realistic graphics, no tutorial, and an interface that functions more like a game development environment than a user-friendly game menu, Garry's Mod can intimidate new users.

Our Review
What's It Like?

Garry's Mod (GMod) is a physics sandbox stuffed with art and models from Valve software's popular games, including "Half-Life 2" and "Counter-Strike." With a large library of generic objects, recognizable props from Valve's games, and pre-built devices like thrusters and wheels, users can build and share nearly anything they can imagine. Every object's physical properties can be modified, letting players tweak things like lighting or the amount of force and torque an object can create or withstand. With GMod, students can model solutions to physics problems, draw hypotheses about how things work in the real world, make films or sculptures, or just have madcap fun.

Is It Good For Learning?

While the toolkit and physics engine are superb, GMod is nowhere near as easy to use as its spiritual cousin, Minecraft. If students don't already have experience with similar editing software, they'll need to spend a significant amount of time learning the ins and outs of the game's tools, materials, and settings. GMod also has some highly distracting assets –- weapons and scary, rag-doll character models -– which, like TNT in Minecraft, might derail more productive play. As a teaching tool, GMod benefits from focused use and clear expectations –- including what specific objects should be used. It's definitely a right kid, right time, right project teaching and learning tool, and unreasonable as a requirement for an entire class. But certain kids will fall in love and engineer fantastic creations.

How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers can use GMod as a demonstration tool for physics experiments that are otherwise impractical for class. For example, a teacher could create a rocket, giant catapult, or two objects that push against each other with more force than can be safely (or possibly) generated at school. Teachers can also help students model experimental designs and solutions to physics and 3D geometry problems, and students who want to share their work (with the appropriate permissions) can work up and post expository pieces explaining their creations on DIY sites like Instructables. Teachers and students can also use GMod to create explorable 3D maps and models that connect to class content.

This review of Garry's Mod was written by

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