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Ed School Student Creates Anti-Bullying Video Game

By Callie H. Gilbert, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Graduate School of Education student Geoff E. Marietta has collaborated with MIT game developer Jeff Orkin to create “SchoolLife,” a video game designed to reduce bullying in the classroom. The idea for the game has attracted attention and acclaim in the past year, winning the 2013 Harvard Education Innovation Contest and earning a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The game features a 3D virtual school environment in which players assume the roles of simulated bullying victims and bystanders.  SchoolLife enables players to interact with these various characters and gain insight into their emotions and social skills.

SchoolLife developed out of Marietta and Orkin’s creation in May 2013 of GiantOtter Technologies, a company that creates “data-driven models of personality, social interaction, and communication, for applications in simulation, assessment, education, and games,” according to the company’s official website.

“Educating kids about anti-bullying social skills seemed like a natural application of my technology,” Orkin said.

SchoolLife is the first development out of Marietta and Orkin’s larger “SocialLife” platform, which will ultimately include other projects like “RestaurantLife” and “OfficeLife.” RestaurantLife will allow those with neurological impairments to practice everyday social interactions in a restaurant, while OfficeLife will allow players to assess personality traits through common social interactions in the workplace, according to Orkin.

The pitch for SchoolLife was one of the winners of the 2013 Harvard Education Innovation Contest, and also a winner of the MIT iGame Entrepreneurial Competition.

“When I found out that I was one of the winners I felt that my idea had been validated,” said Marietta. “It was worth the time and resources to make the idea reality.”

Marietta’s idea to create a virtual game that addressed these issues of bullying also earned the company a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant from the NSF in January.

After receiving the 6-month grant, Marietta worked with Orkin to develop the initial structure of the video game.

“We contracted a professional 3D animation studio in Seattle (Turnstyle Studios, who has previously worked on Harry Potter and Stuart Little franchises) to create the 3D artwork,” Orkin said. “We have also worked with a local interactive narrative designer, Adam Singer, to refine the script.”

SchoolLife is still an ongoing process, according to Marietta, as he and Orkin are refining the design by pilot testing different versions in schools across the country and meeting with anti-bullying experts.

The pilot version of the game is currently accessible through any web browser, and will be available on Android and iOS mobile applications soon.

Marietta and Orkin said they hope for widespread adoption of the game and a measurable improvement of social relationships in schools.

“We hope to inspire a new game-based approach to social-emotional learning,” said Orkin.

—Staff writer Callie H. Gilbert can be reached at Follow her on twitter @calliegilbert95.

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