IBM is working on digital escape game for youngsters

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IBM brings the technology of the future closer to youngsters. That is why we regularly help with initiatives of non-profit- and educational organisations which encourage an interest in technology. Last year we joined forces with the Flemish science and technology center Technopolis, Child Focus and LUCA School of Arts. The result: Friend Zone, a digital escape game for students starting from the third year of secondary school. The game fits the world of young people between 14 and 18 years old and presents them with a series of digital and social challenges. The game raises questions about current relevant topics such as hacking, sexting, privacy, new technologies and fake news. IBM helped to design the concept, developed the platform and implemented the first game. On the platform different partners can find each other and work together to link socially relevant topics to modern technology in an innovative way. In other words, more games will follow.

Complementary partners

Technopolis wanted to renew and expand the experiences they offer for youngsters. It had to be something that fits their world, i.e. a digital experience. Technopolis, Child Focus, LUCA School of Arts and IBM first had a brainstorming session about the concept. Child Focus provided an interesting storyline that is socially relevant to the target group: online safety. LUCA School of Arts took charge of the game design and developed the story in an intriguing and challenging escape game. And through design thinking, IBM supplied technological advice and know-how, and provided the high-quality platform on IBM Public Cloud. “A cloud environment is better at absorbing peaks in usage”, says Luc Van Ingelgom of IBM’s Cognitive Process Transformation department. “And by combining their own technology with open source, other partners are able to adapt the games easier to their own wishes.”

Physical and digital

Friend Zone tests the youngster’s knowledge about modern technology and digital skills. In groups of 3 to 4, students first make an account on fictitious social media. Then, one challenge follows the other. Their working tools: a tablet, an information brochure and their brains. “We wanted the game to be as natural as possible”, says Bram Beirens, Cognitive and Analytics consultant at IBM. “Child Focus made sure the slang they use did not come across as artificial. We tested the game extensively with youngsters. Not just for the language usage and the storyline. We also wanted to know whether the technology suited the purpose  and how the supervisor should go to work. Based on the feedback, we adapted the dialogues and provided more guidance, for example by making certain buttons blink.” Karen Ledegen, one of the teenagers who tested the game, is already convinced: “Escape rooms are popular. Friend Zone goes a step further. The situations are recognisable and totally drag you into the story. Sometimes it was confronting because a group member had a totally different opinion about a sensitive subject for example. It got me thinking.”

youtube image for technopolis

Accessible platform

“Friend Zone is a unique project for all partners”, says Luc. “In particular, the versatile mix of skills, expertise and tools was great. The plan is to expand the platform further with new games and partners. Furthermore, anyone is able to adapt existing games to their own wishes as the platform is open source. Technopolis is currently already developing a next game. And at IBM we are working on a version of Friend Zone which is 100% digital and will be available in different languages. We will be able to use it during IBM activities, separate from the physical environment. The game will also be offered in science communication centres in other countries.

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