Usually video games are a distraction from college student's work, but in the case of Ball State University student Ryan Bitzegaio, video games are work.
The Brazil native was part of a 12-person multidisciplinary team that created an educational video game about ecological restoration for elementary school kids.
The game, Navigating Nature, is being awarded honors from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
The awards were presented on Oct. 8 in San Francisco.
The project was completed during the spring semester of last school year.
As part of the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, the project was the only grade that most students received for the semester.
"It's very intense for the student and the faculty," Professor Martha Hunt said.
Hunt, an assistant professor of landscape architecture, oversaw the project.
She proposed that an educational video game be the product of the semester, with a focus on landscape architecture.
Students then interviewed for the opportunity to be a part of the project.
"At first, I was not enticed enough to join the seminar, but Dr. Barb Stedman from the Honors College and Professor Hunt were quite persuasive and persistent. I was eventually convinced to join the seminar, and I am I couldn't be happier that they had enough persistence to get me involved," Bitzegaio said, via e-mail.
The 12 students that were selected had majors ranging from landscape architecture to secondary education.
The greatest challenge of bringing students with such diverse majors was effective communication.
That's where Hunt says that Bitzegaio was most effective.
"The true value of participating in the seminar was collaborating with the 11 other students involved in the project. Interacting and working with people from various backgrounds and disciplines provided daily challenges and lessons that I think we will all use throughout our lives as professionals and leaders," Bitzegaio said.
Bitzegaio, a telecommunications major, was in charge of graphic design. He developed the main character, a boy called Lane, as well as other integral characters.
Every scene and character began with a pencil sketch, and then translated into computer graphics.
Hunt says that Bitzegaio's creativity kept engaging the fellow students, and "gave it that visual life to the game that we otherwise wouldn't have had."
The game consists of three levels, where the character must use resources effectively to rehabilitate a wildlife area.
A forest area is the first level that the player encounters, where they help lane an area that has been logged.
The second area is a wetland that has been cut off from its water supply. The player and Lane must dig the least invasive path for water to reach the wetland.
Finally, the player must remove non-native wildlife from a prairie to encourage the native plants and animals to repopulate the area.
Each of the scenarios is a real-life challenge that wildlife areas face.
Students at Muncie's Storer Elementary School reviewed every step of the creation process.
When asked what would he change about the program, Bitzegaio said, "A semester may seem like a long time, but there was so much that needed to be learned and accomplished in order to complete the project. While the game is 'complete,' and the seminar is finished, there are still many things that could be added and tweaked."
Bitzegaio did not attend the award ceremony in San Francisco. He graduated in the spring and is currently working for the university as a coordinator of The Digital Corps, which he was involved in as a student.
At this point, there are no plans for distribution of the game.