BYU alternate reality game launches to inspire STEM interest


BYU recently developed an alternate reality game that aims to inspire teens, especially girls and minorities, to work with others and become more interested in STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The game, entitled “The Tessera,” utilizes puzzles and mysteries to help the players fight off the advances of “S,” a force that seeks to destroy the innovations of the modern world. Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician and one of the world’s first computer programmers, helps the player along the way.

The Tessera launched on Jan. 17 with an event at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. The game was developed in collaboration with the University of Maryland, Tinder Transmedia and the Computer History Museum in California, with the National Science Foundation funding the project.

Derek Hansen is an associate professor of information technology and BYU’s lead on the project.

“The game is immersive and encourages players to work together by creating challenges that only large groups of players can solve by working together,” Hansen said.

Lovelace is the story’s main heroine. The game creators hope she will provide girls with a role model.

“People don’t know her story well, but maybe she can become a champion for young women,” said Jeff Sheets, creative director of the game. “This is someone that basically invented computer programming, and she was a compelling character with an interesting life, and was flamboyant and exciting, but also gifted in her mind.”

An exhibit will open at the Computer History Museum in California in conjunction with the game’s release. BYU junior studying information technology Lexie Bradford is the lead student on the museum experience.

“Watching our girl players enjoy this game so much has been a really heartwarming experience for me,” Bradford said. “This is a game that doesn’t just have strong female characters in it, they’re real life people.”

Bradford fears many girls avoid STEM fields because of the lack of female role models and the fear they don’t have the skills to succeed. She believes these young women need more female trailblazers.

“Never hold yourself back,” Bradford said. “Interest and passion are always a bigger driving force than your default skill level.”

Both Hansen and Sheets found working with the students to be the most rewarding part of the project.

“I’m always impressed, but never surprised with what BYU students can create,” Sheets said.

More information can be found on the game’s website.

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