Game developers were invited to “Game Jam,” the first conference of its kind hosted at the White House.
The computer science majors, junior Adam Aji and sophomores Jacob Settlemyre and Stephanie Yu, were chosen by computer science professor Diane Pozefsky to attend the conference, after they took her Serious Games course in the fall of 2013.
“She said we were her ‘A team,’” Settlemyre said.
Pozefsky said the UNC team was one of two undergraduate teams, along with the University of Maryland Baltimore County, to participate with professional developers, including the Finnish makers of Angry Birds.
During the conference, the teams created prototypes games to be used for educational purposes.
The topics of the games ranged from physics to the electoral college.
“When most people think of education games they think of really bad games but over this two-day period all these game developers came together and made these really great games, and I think it’s really cool that the White House is supporting it,” Settlemyre said.
Yu said she had previously seen video games as purely recreational.
“I had never thought of using an Xbox controller to create an educational game,” she said.
Pozefsky said students might as well be taught new concepts in ways they enjoy.
“They have to learn the material, but nobody cares how they learn the material,” she said. “So why not learn the material in a way that’s going to be more interesting and more entertaining?”
During the car ride to the conference the three figured they wanted to produce a physics-based game, and eventually that idea morphed into their final product, “Accel-o-rama.”
Two days of coding and sacrificing sleep were the cost in producing the game.
“I might have slept on the floor for five hours,” Settlemyre said. “I mean, they said you can go home at night, you don’t have to stay here, but it was like a 30-minute ride on the metro ... we wanted to work over night and so we did.”
Aji said he likes the creativity of building video games.
“They’re a form of expression,” he said. “It’s like an art form.”
The students said they want their work on “Accel-o-rama” to continue beyond the conference room floor.
“We don’t have anything set in stone, but it’s definitely something we want to continue working on, because everyone there seemed to like it, and we seemed to like it,” Settlemyre said.
He said the U.S. Department of Education and BrainPOP, an educational website for kids, liked their game and urged them to continue work on it.
Pozefsky said she was impressed by the number of UNC alumni at the event despite the University’s few classes on game development.
“We’re really just breaking into that field as a department,” she said.