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Video game packed with more than fun

Lakeridge students create video game with focus on defeating malaria


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - From left are members of Play 4 A Cause, Vincent Chia, Ben Case, Sean Kelly, Andrew Liu and Aaron Freyer.Like a lot of teenagers, Vincent Chia, Aaron Freyer, Andrew Liu, Sean Kelly and Ben Case are big fans of video games. However these teens are more interested in designing games for others’ enjoyment than in spending hours playing themselves.

The five young men, all juniors at Lakeridge High School, have been developing robotic and computer games since they met at Waluga Junior High. What began as a robotics club has evolved into a full-fledged business called Play 4 A Cause.

Their game, Malaria Warfare, caught the attention of organizers of Oregon Bio 2012, the Oregon Bioscience Association’s annual conference held Oct. 9 at Marylhurst University. While other high schools may have been in attendance at the conference, Play 4 A Cause was invited to participate as a professional exhibitor. OBAC wanted to know about Malaria Warfare, soon to be released on an iOS platform for iPhones and iPads.

On their website, play4acause.org, the teens state that their mission “is to develop and introduce novel methods to raise public awareness of diseases. Our methods leverage development and implementation of video games for ‘causes,’ diseases and/or afflictions which do not have established cures and where funds are needed for ongoing research.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: SEAN KELLY - This is a screenshot of Malaria Warfare, designed by Play 4 A Cause.The video game concepts are designed not only to elevate awareness, but also to encourage donations and steer players to organizations that support and fund these causes.

And how did they choose malaria?

“Malaria is a disease that affects a bunch of kids,” Chia said. He explained that malaria is an “unconquered killer,” and nearly half the world’s population is at risk to contract it. The disease kills more than 1 million people every year, most of them children.

The teens think that to defeat malaria, funds need to be raised for research and development and disease prevention and awareness.

Through the fun of playing a video game, players become aware of disease prevention techniques while they fight for the lives of the villagers in the game. When infection occurs, players learn disease pathways as they fight the infection from within the human host. Players are also conveniently presented with fun built-in educational quizzes and tutorials and enlightened with information about organizations throughout the world engaged in real malaria warfare.

“Games are the best way to attract people, and iPhones are an excellent media. They appeal to kids and adults,” Freyer said. “These are innovative ways to get this information to the masses. Using their smartphones and tablets, they can learn how they can help the world.”

The Play 4 A Cause concept is much more than just a game. It adds the unique component of fundraising to what is a learning experience.

“They have done an amazing amount of community contributions,” said Kelly’s father Bryan, who is quick to give all the credit for its success to the team. “They completely govern and run themselves as a team and organization. From (coordinating) different fundraisers to helping Japan (after the tsunami crisis), to raise money to purchase bed nets for Africa, to raise money to purchase a digital microscope for River Grove Elementary school, etc.

“They have also organized robotics as well as video game development introductory sessions at local LO elementary schools, organized and hosted elementary school science fairs, etc. These guys, in my humble opinion, are simply amazing.”

Kelly’s father said that his role in supporting the group is to “provide the snacks and soda.”

Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele agrees.

“I continue to be extremely proud of their hard work and dedication,” she said. “They are truly a team in every sense of the word.”

The teammates are proud of creating Malaria Warfare and are pleased in the efforts they are making in their quest to make a difference.

“Every step we take is a huge accomplishment,” Chia said. “And we’re proud that we’ve evolved from a club in middle school to a company today.”

As juniors, they are starting to research colleges, but that doesn’t foreshadow the end of the good works of Play 4 A Cause. In fact, the team is considering autism and childhood obesity as the next targets of their game development.

“We all want to study engineering when we go to college,” Liu said. “But we will probably end up at different colleges, which shouldn’t be a problem thanks to the Internet.”

Play 4 A Cause extends their thanks and appreciation to DesignMedix, the Oregon Research and Drug Development Institute (OTRADI) and the Portland Veterans’ Administration Medical Center for their support.

To learn more about Play 4 A Cause, visit play4acause.org.