MSU programmers develop land mine avoidance game
In the Cambodian jungle, dangers from battles and wars past — namely land mines — lay strewn about, threatening the lives and limbs of the unsuspecting.
Those dangers could more easily be avoided if a team of MSU instructors and students has anything to do with it.
Continuing work that began at MSU about two years ago, the team is developing a computer video game to educate people — primarily kids — on how to avoid land mines and other explosive jungle perils.
Led by Corey Bohil, a visiting assistant professor of telecommunication, information studies and media, the team created a maze-like video game that uses image repetition to embed warning signals in players’ minds.
“The real trick is how do you get people, especially kids, to look at these things long enough to sort of notice these kinds of (dangers),” Bohil said.
The game is a capstone project for students in the game design and development specialization offered by the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media.
In the game, players use directional buttons to guide a character, accompanied by a pet, through a series of Cambodian landscape pictures in search of food. Players must avoid land mines and other artillery, called unexploded ordnances, or UXOs, by following warnings, such as bright red signs emblazoned with a skull and cautionary words.
“It should be fun enough that a kid wants to play this game over and over again … and get enough repetition that when it transfers out into the real world, it translates into actual changes in behavior,” Bohil said.
The game first was conceptualized when a California-based nonprofit organization approached MSU with the idea.
The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, which works to eradicate UXOs across the globe, wanted to explore new methods of land mine education because current methods, such as informational pamphlets, are ineffective, Bohil said.
The team is in the process of fine-tuning the game, having received a nearly $78,000 grant last year from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.
Officials from Golden West plan to take copies of the game to children in Cambodia for testing in April. Bohil said Golden West will be able to switch landscape pictures for distribution in countries other than Cambodia.
Bohil said the team is working with One Laptop per Child, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization initiative designed to provide low-cost laptop computers to children in third world countries for educational purposes. The game will be compatible with those laptops.
Computer science junior Neil Owen, one of the game’s programmers, said the project was interesting and challenging.
“I hope this project will be fun, because even if not everyone in the target audience has a chance to experience it, word of mouth can spread the educational message and awareness of the problem even better,” Owen said in an e-mail.
Dan Shillair, a media arts and technology senior who works as an artist on the project, said the game is designed to be an effective way to teach important safety techniques.
“I think that this type of game can be pretty practical when it comes to teaching certain things to kids,” Shillair said in an e-mail.