New online game hopes to teach students about ecology
nMontgomery College students created program for NOAA
A new online video game created and developed by Montgomery College students for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration allows viewers to help a girl named Valerie save an otter's home from pollution.
"WaterLife: Where Rivers Meet the Sea," a children's educational game, aims to teach fourth- through seventh-grade students about the importance of protecting estuaries, where fresh water from rivers meets the salt water from the ocean.
The game is the result of a year-long work-study project by students in the college's Computer Gaming and Simulation degree program on the Rockville campus.
"WaterLife" is still in beta form, meaning there are bugs to be fixed and things to improve after getting feedback on the game, said Deborah Solomon, the gaming and simulation professor at the college who led the group of students. But she said she is excited to see the finished product.
"It's like giving birth," Solomon said, laughing. "I'm happy it's out and can't wait to hear what people think."
Current and former Montgomery College students developed the game throughout the past year, each taking a different role, such as graphic design, programming and sound engineering.
"It's an opportunity for them to get immediate experience and get a published game on their resume, which is valuable for them in the industry," Solomon said.
Montgomery College began the gaming program four years ago as a way to meet the demand for the large gaming industry in the state. Maryland is considered the gaming hub of the East Coast with more than 60 companies.
Brian Doyle, who graduated from Montgomery College with a gaming and simulation degree two years ago, programmed the interactive quiz in the game and said it was satisfying to be able to see a game to its finished product, something students do not always have time to do in one semester of class.
Doyle, 27, of Derwood, is about to graduate from the University of Baltimore with a degree in simulation and digital entertainment and plans to start an educational game company with some of his peers.
"The fundamental truth is that the way people learn is changing," Doyle said. "Kids in my generation need to interact and get their hands dirty. The gaming industry will play a huge part of that."
That is exactly why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided to partner with the college and fund the creation of educational games, said Peg Steffen, NOAA's acting ocean service education branch chief.
Steffen said a recent study of teenagers across the country showed that 90 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds play video games.
"They spend as much time playing games as they do doing their homework," Steffen said. "So we see it as another avenue to get education about important environmental topics out to the public."
Steffen presented the game last month to the National Science Teachers Association's annual convention in New Orleans and said she received positive responses from educators she hopes will use the game in their classrooms.
The Montgomery College students have already begun working on the design for a sequel game for NOAA that will teach children about the threats to loggerhead turtles, which are often mistakenly caught by fishing nets.