By Ann Smith
The initial One-Laptop-per-Child game that we are implementing is based on the popular Super Mario Bros. game, with a working title of Healthy Mario! The main focus is for players of the game (1st graders) to see positive effects related to healthy food choices. In addition, the game has a regional flavor and ways for the students to collaborate with each other.
Our prototype implementation builds on an open source Pygame version of the game. Pygame is a set of modules written in the Python programming language specifically for game development; and Python is the programming language for the XO laptops we are programming. The programming team includes the 4 Saint Mary's University students in the Computer Science C4G class: Stephanie Valentine, Mitchell May, Jeffrey Thomas and Chris Engesser.
To play the Healthy Mario! game, users move forward and jump over obstacles through a 2-dimensional world filled with healthy foods that boost their performance and pests that slow them down. Along the way to the flagpole at the Winona Elementary School, they will pass by things familiar to the region, e.g., the St. Louis arch, the state Dogwood flower, etc. They will also be given opportunities to make nutrition and hygiene choices along the way and to collect points and awards for making healthy choices.
Users will be able to customize the game in a few distinct ways. To start off the game, they will create an avatar that looks like them, rather than the traditional Mario character. They will also be able to pick the foods and pests that will show up in the game as the tokens for boosting or slowing down performance.
As a special feature of the game, kids will be able to play the game in a collaborative mode. In this case, two or more players will play the game simultaneously and be able to work together to access special rewards. One example would be for one player to be able to stand on another player’s shoulder to reach a high reward symbol.
The children will also have an opportunity to record what food they have had over the past day/week in a food diary based on the USDA recommended food guide pyramid for kids. The food items the students record will show up as options in the Healthy Mario! game. The individual food diaries for a class will also be able to be combined into an overall class food diary that will be displayed in various graphical forms that reinforce spatial reasoning.
The next few blogs will go into detail on each of the game’s main components.