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IDS Students Create Digital Game to Raise Landmine Awareness

IDS Students create digital game to raise landmine awareness

The fields and hills of Bosnia and Herzegovina are beautiful, but they hide a dark secret. More than 20 years after the Bosnian War, the country is still littered with landmines. It’s been approximated that more than 500,000 people live close to areas believed to be contaminated, and landmine blasts have killed about 600 people and wounded more than 1,100 since the end of the war.

Kenan Zekic, a Penn State visiting scholar from the International University of Sarajevo and Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, wants to do something about it. He came up with an idea for a digital game named “Mine Avoiders” that would improve school children’s awareness of still-buried landmines while also building technology literacy with augmented-reality and coding concepts.

“I want to reinforce kids’ knowledge while reminding them about the landmine dangers and how to improve their safety,” Zekic said. “At the same time, I also want to expose kids in underdeveloped areas to new and emerging technologies. The idea builds on my experiences from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but my aim is to develop a tool that could be used wherever we have landmines: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and other places.”

Zekic envisioned a game in which players must race against the clock and avoid obstacles to rescue a group of children who are trapped in a minefield. Players must hurry to the nearest Mine Action Center and retrieve help for their friend, avoiding landmines and unexploded ordinances along the way.

Last fall, Zekic shared his idea with Andrew Hieronymi, a Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) faculty member who at the time was teaching a course about game art. Hieronymi knew several of his students would be taking a studio course he was scheduled to teach with Carlos Rosas, a fellow SoVA faculty member, in the spring.

Together, the three presented the idea to the students in AA310: Collaborative Studio and tasked them with building the game from scratch, with Zekic providing support and guidance along the way.

“The project is a great opportunity for our students to engage in creative research while collaborating with Kenan Zekic,” Rosas said. “Students were really able to engage with the content, educational and cultural context, and project goals while having considerable influence over the overall design and gaming experience.”

The class was split into several teams that tackled building the game — teams for art, design and audio, as well as research and coding. Each team was responsible for a different aspect of the game, using a variety of technologies along the way.

With so much to accomplish, a system was needed for organization. Keeping everyone on task was the class’s project director — Sarah Parker, a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Digital Studio — and the infamous “scrum”: a document kept on Box cloud storage that detailed everything that needed to be done and who needed to do it.

Click here for the complete Penn State News story by Katie Bohn.

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