MSU develops video game to help kids avoid landmines
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University professor and his students have developed a new video game that they hope will help children and others in war-torn countries avoid death and injury from unexploded land mines and other explosives.
Known as UXOs, or unexploded ordnance, the United Nations Mine Action Service estimates they kill or injure as many as 20,000 people per year around the world.
“The goal of the project is to teach children in Cambodia and other at-risk areas to recognize and avoid unexploded ordnance,” said Corey Bohil, a visiting assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media who headed the project.
Here is how the game works: The player is tasked with navigating through a maze, trying to help his or her pet find food. The player is presented with a number of “indicators” – warning signs that an explosive device might be nearby – and attempts to avoid them.
“If the player recognizes the indicators and avoids them, then the pet finds the food and everyone is happy,” Bohil said.
Bohil said part of the motivation for developing the game was that other methods of teaching children how to avoid UXOs were not effective.
“For years the local communities would try to teach people how to avoid landmines,” Bohil said. “They would have presentations made to community elders, publish booklets, and nothing would work.”
The game was developed by students in a class Bohil taught called “Collaborative Game Design.” A prototype of the game was presented at the Meaningful Play Conference at MSU more than a year ago where it received rave reviews.
Bohil and his students worked with the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation to improve the game. Based in California, the foundation is the only nonprofit charity in the country devoted to the removal of unexploded ordnances.
Eventually funding for the project – to the tune of about $78,000 - was secured from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.
“So now we’re working to make the game better – make it less clunky and get out some of the bugs,” Bohil said. “It will be sent to Cambodia in March for testing to see if the kids like it.”
Bohil said he is hopeful the game will be used with the One Laptop per Child Program, a project designed to develop inexpensive but rugged laptop computers that will provide learning opportunities for children in developing nations.
Bohil is the manager of MSU’s Media Interface & Network Design Lab, where much of the work on the project was done.
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.