New video game helps kids fight online dangers

Carleton PhD brings psychology and computer science together to educate on internet safety

Sana Maqsood, a PhD student at Carleton University, wants to educate young internet users on how to stay safe in the online world. Through Mitacs’ internship program, Sana is working with MediaSmarts — a local not-for-profit organization that promotes digital literacy among youth — to create a video game that helps players combat the risks found in cyberspace.

The game, called A Day in the Life of the Jos, is a new and improved version of MediaSmarts’ original game of the same name, developed ten years ago. Using her background in computer science, psychology, and human-computer interaction, Sana saw an opportunity to redevelop the game to promote privacy and security education among young Canadians.

“The game itself was pretty basic and needed updating, so we were delighted at the opportunity to work with Sana to help us re-envision it in a more sophisticated way for today’s students,” says Jane Tallim, Co-Executive Director of MediaSmarts.

“There is a tremendous need for educational resources that reflect the networked lives of Canadian youth.”

In the updated game, players accompany siblings Jo and Josie through common online scenarios while helping them decide what to do in each situation. Multiple options are given throughout each scenario and the player has to choose the best one to protect their safety. Regardless of whether they succeed or fail, the players experience the result of their choices within the game.

“From interviews with 11 to 13-year-olds, we found that they’re aware of cybersecurity, but don’t have a deep understanding of the topics or how to deal with these situations in real life,” says Sana. “This design allows players to make different choices and explore the consequence of them.”

While the game is not yet publicly released, Sana hopes it will be available in classrooms across Canada.

“Mitacs provided me with an amazing opportunity to collaborate with educators at MediaSmarts, who are experts in children’s educational games. This internship revealed to us important cybersecurity topics, which helped us design game content that will hopefully make the internet a safer place for young Canadians across the country.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates,  the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec,the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Rewritten with permission from Carleton University’s Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs.

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