The College of Fine Arts and Communications and the College of Engineering teamed up to develop an alternate reality game. Tessera: Light in the Dark will be released in January after over a year of development by professors and students at BYU.
Tessera: Light in the Dark is an interactive game about a mysterious collective of historically significant innovators, known as “The Tessera,” hunted by an even more unknown character who goes by “S.” Players navigate real-world and online computational thinking puzzles with the help of the ghosts of these famous men and women who are trying to save everything their think-tank stands for from S’s destructive tendencies.
“The normal claim from educators is that the devices that we use, like a cellphone or a computer, is distracting from students’ learning,” said Jeff Sheets, Associate Professor of Communications. “An alternate reality game is a great vehicle to use for teachers because it actually reverses those relationships. Students can play this game while learning and having fun by trying to solve the mystery.”
A replayable version of the game that can be condensed into a concise teaching unit will become available for classroom and home use after the live release. Teachers and students will have access to the game, both in and out of the classroom, for no cost.
The Tessera players will learn principles of computational thinking (CT), which prepares them to better understand problems in computer science and technology fields. This is not a “learn-to-code” game but students who practice CT can become more confident and interested in studying computer programming.
“This makes teachers the heroes because they have helped make learning interesting for students,” said Sheets. “The same tools and techniques that are used to distract students are being used to engage them, and this is the winning formula for teaching kids STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) subjects in the future. Students will be able to solve a puzzle while learning how to computer program. And we are bringing a little bit of the Arts to teaching STEM, they even call it STEAM now.”
The game targets students ages 13-16, but aims to get more girls and minorities interested in STEM subjects. This game could potentially encourage more minorities and girls to become involved in STEM classes and careers in the future by showing them the basics of computational thinking. This game will show students that they already have the skills for computational thinking, including coding, and can encourage them to pursue STEM subjects in the future.
The game developers designed a trading card game to go along with the online game because they wanted students to have an all-immersive experience. Players can use famous scientists, engineers, artists and mathematicians to claim innovations and gain higher points to win with the trading cards. Each card has a code that can be used in the online game to play against online opponents around the world. This game is designed to be both educational and fun.
BYU faculty members have been working with students over the last year to develop this game. Over 30 students from various programs such as illustration, design, advertising, public relations, animation and film have worked together to create the content and to design the game.
“The design of the game is two fold,” said Connor King, BFA Graphic Design student. “There is the puzzle and level design, as well as the art design and player experience, both of which are linked together.”
Jeff Parkin, a BYU Theatre and Media Arts professor, and Jared Cardon, owner of partner group Tinder Transmedia developed the overall story arc of the game. Students involved created the levels, puzzles, gameplay and a majority of the art included.
“After the levels were built, it was tested to see if things broke, and of course, if it was fun! If our game isn’t fun, there is no purpose to making it,” said King. “It might look beautiful, and run without any errors, but if it isn’t fun, we missed the mark.”
Utah locals have the opportunity to attend a launch party for the game on Tuesday, January 17 from 5-7 pm in the Amber Room at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. There will also be a concurrent launch with program partner Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. The Computer History Museum will host a real-life version of the game in conjunction with the virtual game. To learn more and to receive updates on the game, register on http://thetessera.org.