During the first week that our nation was dealing with the spread of COVID-19, and while many were unsure of what to do for higher ed to continue on schedule, UAT students responded by not only easily converting to all virtual classes—they jumped at the chance to use their skills to be part of the solution.
Brad Snyder, CEO of CRADL, a Children's Research and Design Lab, brought the idea to UAT knowing our students would have the skills to complete the task—a contest to design videogame web apps that could help school-aged children learn strategies for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The contest turned into a full game jam called “Combating COVID-19: Videogames that Empower Kids,” and UAT students quickly came together with a challenge to create serious video games, meaning games that serve some primary purpose other than entertainment—and in this case tackling the difficult subject matter of how to help stay safe from the conoravirus. Snyder explained that the media coverage of COVID-19 can be quite frightening for kids, especially to children who are trauma-sensitive, so they students set out to create games that empower kids to help.
The students began on March 20, and they were given nine days for their videogame development. The two game themes to choose from were encouraging children to properly wash their hands for 20 seconds or more, and educating children in strategies to prevent or slow the spread of contagions, such as social distancing. The UAT team of professors Jill Coddington, Derric Clark, and Adam Moore conducted the Jam through an entirely virtual game jam format, hosted at https://itch.io/jam/combating-covid19. The students were able to team up on UAT’s student Discord to create their games, with a virtual presentation on Sunday afternoon.
itch.io submission page
The presentations and judging for the game jam were held on Sunday, March 29, with four teams that presented. “We organized via Zoom using camera and screen sharing to display the work,” said Professor Moore. “We used a breakout room within Zoom for the judges to deliberate privately after the presentations, and we all livestreamed to the UATEDU Twitch channel through OBS Studio.” The students housed their submissions at itch.io, still available to view at https://itch.io/jam/combating-covid19/entries.
Screenshot from Clean Knight game
One of the most exciting aspects of the Jam were the judges in (virtual) attendance, with professionals from the Cartoon Network and Andrews McMeel Universal among them. Judges included: Adam Moore and Brad Bowling from UAT; Brad Snyder from CRADL; Chris Waldron from Andrews McMeel Universal; James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy; and Eric Cook, Angel Sisson, Beau Teague, and Brad Merritt from the Cartoon Network.
The judges chose Team Awesomesauce as the winner, comprised of Jake Fusco, John Pratt, Aaliyah Lasker, Marissa Williams, Rhiannon Holloway, and Jacquelynne Heiman. Their game, called Cootie-19, included several different fun ways that kids could learn about both hygiene and social distancing, led through the games by a friendly physician. “I thought it was really fun,” said Jacquelynne. “I got to make five minigames in four days and they all were teaching kids about this [COVID-19]. I’ve actually been wanting to make a kid’s game lately because my daughter has been playing games more, and I’m really interested in seeing the types of games she likes and what kinds of games are out there for kids… I feel like a lot of us make games for people who are like us and not little humans that don’t know how to do things or may not understand things in the way that adults do. What we did was have to figure out how to abstract the scary truth about the coronavirus and turn it into a fun ‘I’ve got this’ game feel.”
Screenshots from Cootie-19 game
Watch the discussion on YouTube:
Even though the Jam has ended, students have continued work on their games to get them ready for distribution. When complete, the games will be completely free, and dissemination by the Cartoon Network is a possibility. All involved are proud of the participants and all who volunteered. “It’s a tribute to the students and UAT that on the first week of distance classes, UAT hosted a distance game jam to create an educational game to help with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Professor Coddington. “The teams got together and created some really cool edutainment web apps, with judging by some highly esteemed people. UAT really rocked this and showed how we can be fast, fun, wicked smart, and helpful to our community!”
Play the games now and https://itch.io/jam/combating-covid19!
Find out more about UAT’s gaming degree programs, including Game Art and Animation, Game Design, and Game Programming. And look into our Advancing Computer Science Degree, too! Start your future at UAT!
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