College students are increasingly encouraged to find ways to give back to their communities, but sometimes they show up for volunteer assignments ill-prepared, creating more work for the understaffed agencies they're supposed to be helping.
A new project at Tufts University aims to solve that with a video game students can use to prepare themselves before tackling volunteer projects in Boston-area communities. Creators hope other colleges and universities might eventually be able to use it as well.
The online game called Civic Seed was created by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College and is expected to be released this year. The game, which takes two hours to complete, can be played in groups of 20 and is tailored to the needs of the communities such as Somerville and Boston's Chinatown where they'll be working at homeless shelters, tutoring and handing out food.
Each player is assigned a character who walks through the black-and-white virtual town interacting with other players, fellow students, professors and community organizers. Players will be awarded seeds for every interaction and question answered correctly. When planted, they'll add color to the town.
The four levels of the game are designed to teach students about their own moral values, the ideals of the community, collaboration and career goals. After completing the game, students will be awarded civic profiles that can be used on their LinkedIn accounts to attract future employers.
Content creator Mindy Nierenberg said the game helps dispel the impression that students are coming in to save the communities they're working in.
"They need to recognize that they have to learn from these communities as well," she said. The game will also allow students to learn the ropes of a volunteer program so they don't take time away from organizations that may be understaffed.
Nierenberg said students have responded extremely well to the game.
Tufts junior Hayden Lizotte, who has been involved in six months of testing, said he would be surprised if other schools don't start using it.
"Playing a game is much more appealing than sitting in a classroom and reading off a PowerPoint," he said. "The idea of having goals and building toward a better community keeps you engaged and entertained in the game."