George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Computer game design students develop award-winning prototype for 50-and-over crowd

July 6, 2016   /   by Jamie Rogers

Lewis Sellari (left) and Kayla Harris (second from left), computer game design students at George Mason University, competed as finalists in the AARP/Entertainment Software Associates Social Connection Game Jam in Los Angeles in June. Photo provided by AARP.

George Mason University students developed a prototype for a computer game designed to address the loneliness and isolation adults older than 50 can feel as they move up in age.

Kayla Harris and Lewis Sellari, computer game design students at George Mason, competed as finalists in the AARP/Entertainment Software Associates Social Connection GameJam this summer.

They won a $1,500 cash prize and admission to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in June where they submitted a presentation and prototype for their game, “Neighbors.”

Neighbors allows players to travel in a virtual world and connect with family members and those with similar interests by playing themed mini-games  together.

Players who like playing together can further their relationship and become neighbors in the same virtual neighborhood. Becoming neighbors has its advantages, Harris said. For example, neighbors receive better decorations for their houses when they play mini games together.

Sellari said they developed the prototype for the game using Unity, a game developing software he’s become familiar with through his classes at Mason.

Neighbors would be ideal for parents wishing to connect more with their adult children, as well as for grandparents and grandchildren, Harris said.

“None of us kids talk to our parents enough,” she said. “I wanted to create something that allows me to communicate with my parents at a time when it’s not an inconvenience for either of us.”

It’s also a good way for people with limited social connections to interact with more people their own age, she added.

GameJam judges gave feedback to the team on their idea and suggested they add voice chatting or user status feature to the game.

They didn’t win the $10,000 grand prize, but Harris isn’t deterred.

“I plan on completely making the game and actually publishing it on Facebook,” she said.

“I would like to see the game be made the way we envisioned and see if people enjoy the game,” Sellari said. He’d also like to see “if it can actually help with the social issue that the older people in our society are facing.”

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