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Videogame teaches New Zealand students about volcanoes

The University of Canterbury has developed an exciting hi-tech game by using special effects, science, art and storytelling, according to a recent report.

Called ‘Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth’, the game aims to help high school students understand the power of the earth.

A team comprised of a volcanologist from the University, a geological 3D visualisation expert, with help from artists, digital experts and educators worked together for the game.

The game integrates storytelling, 3D software, video technology, holograms, comic art and geology to teach secondary school students about the inner workings of volcanoes and the role of geologists and engineers.

Students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi in Christchurch were the first to test the game. The game enables the students to experience science through educated play and by becoming the stars of the game.

It was really exciting to see it all come together and see the students having fun. Hopefully, it inspired some of them to think about a career in science or engineering in the future.

In the game, the students have to work out how to ‘save the planet’ by finding and safely extracting renewable energy from a volcano, putting them in the role of the geologist or engineer.

The game was inspired by the 2005 disaster movie Supervolcano about a massive volcanic eruption, which used 3D imagery to show the geological processes behind the eruption.

The game sees students work in teams of four to role play as scientists or engineers trying to drill into a magma chamber to extract its power.

Each team member is assigned a job, whether as a geophysicist, an environmental risk manager, a volcanologist, or a drilling engineer and watches entertaining videos relating to their role.

The team members then share their knowledge, as real scientists and engineers would, to identify such things as the location, depth and budget of the drilling.

They input their answers into an online form. At the end of the game, they get to see the consequences of their proposed solution visualised in a 3D hologram.

Drilling too deep could initiate an eruption and kill everyone. But when done right, several things may happen: the magma chamber can be cooled down, the risk of a large eruption is reduced, and renewable energy can be made and ultimately, save the earth.

The 3D visualisation used local Christchurch 3D geological software company to create the magma holograms.

A NZ$ 30,000 funding was given from the Unlocking Curious Minds 2017 funding round, which was administered by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The University provided in-kind support through staff time, use of equipment and facilities.

The University scientists hope to share the game with other schools, museums and educational centres around New Zealand.

This is a rare opportunity to use science to stimulate the imagination of students and involve them in this journey to the centre of the earth.

Teachers cannot keep teaching the way they have always taught and expect the students to stay engaged.

As teachers, there is a need to keep up and stay relevant, and this game is just one of the ways that is being done.

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