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Students Create Games to Teach About Safe Water

April 23, 2024
Students compete in the Aqua Arcade Game Jam at UC Merced.
Teams had 48 hours to create their games.

Ensuring people have access to reliable, clean water is no game.

Except when it is.

UC Merced's Secure Water Future interns, administrative assistant and coordinator joined the university's Game Development Club to host the "Aqua Arcade Game Jam" in early April. Dozens of students from UC Merced and Merced College competed to develop a game that included an aspect of hydrology education.

Teams of five people or fewer had 48 hours to create their games. At the end of the weekend, eight teams submitted game entries. All teams submitted creative products, but one emerged as the winner.

The winning team (UC Merced students Sean Thomas Edison Grant, Richie Friedland, Serge LoBach and Damian Eaton), "Remediation," created a game with the same title.

In Remediation, a player acts as a scientist trying to help clean contaminated aquifers, or underground water reserves. As the game points out, groundwater is an important source of safe drinking water.

The player, or scientist, must test solutions using bioremediation, or microbes, to clean water, and chemical remediation, which is the same idea using chemicals. As the player delves further into the problem, they can upgrade their methods to find the best way to fight pollution and clean the water.

In the animated game, the contaminants are portrayed by squiggly moving creatures, and the player's goal is to eradicate them. The player selects from an array of solutions, attacking the little creatures with varying degrees of success and racking up research points along the way.

The competition is an example of how Secure Water Future, a USDA-funded collaboration of investigators from the Western United States, develops creative ways to educate people about water security issues. Secure Water Future hosts numerous events, from rafting trips for graduate students and summer academies for middle school students to hackathons.

Kal Li worked directly with Secure Water Future interns Wendy Haw and Luisse Alexie Calderon to plan and execute the Aqua Arcade Game Jam.

"Coordinating the Game Jam alongside Lexie and Wendy was an unforgettable journey," Li said. "It was incredibly gratifying to unite our sponsors - Clip Studio Paint, PepsiCo, Pretty Good Burger, ZOTAC GAMING, and Five Guys - to support our mission. Witnessing the participants going from casual conversations to live game demos really put into perspective how much effort was put into this 48-hour event."

Haw had a similarly positive experience.

"I'm incredibly proud of the collaborative effort that brought the Aqua Arcade Game Jam to life," Haw said. "It was really exciting to see my peers channel their creativity to develop games that encompassed hydrology concepts. Working alongside Kal and Lexie to coordinate the event was an absolute joy, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it."

For more information, visit Secure Water Future .