Township Residents Help Create Cybercrime Game At Rutgers Prep

Rutgers Prep students Divleen Singh, Shreya Aravindakshan, David Merges and Rishie Seshadri, all of Franklin and Uma Balasubramian of Bridgewater attended the Games for Change Festival. Photo: Rutgers Prep.

Submitted by Rutgers Prep.

After a year and a half of development, a board game developed by 22 high school students at Rutgers Preparatory School and funded by a competitive grant from the United Nations Office on Drugs (UNODC) and Crime was featured at the Games for Change (G4C) Festival in New York on June 18-19. The G4C Festival offers expertly curated panels, talks, workshops and demos that all revolve around the central issues of the games for good community. The game was designed to teach players about cybercrime and how it can be countered.

The team of students began designing the game, called “Cyberstrike,” in April of 2018 as a result of being awarded the grant from the UNODC. Rutgers Prep was one of two grants awarded in the U.S., and the only secondary school of all those who applied and won. The project was guided by Mythili Lahiri, Associate Director of the Innovation Center at Rutgers Prep.

Students spent several weeks studying cybersecurity issues and learning from experts in the field. They then applied their knowledge to the game’s design, working in small groups and appraising each other’s ideas. They wrote the rules and created cards, playing pieces, and a mapboard. Part of the funding from the UN allowed for the RPS Cyberstrike game to be professionally printed and packaged by a game development company.

Cyberstrike is a collaborative game, in which players work as a group. It consists of ten rounds, during which various kinds of attacks and security breaches take place. Attacks come randomly, and can take the form of “Energy Hacks,” “Identity Theft,” “Government Info Leaks,” or even “Fake News.” The game board is a map of the world, with each of the four to six players representing one continent. If the players can prevent any continent from being attacked more than eight times, everyone wins. However, if too many attacks occur, or a player runs out of money, then everyone goes down together – a dynamic that reflects the necessity for cooperation in promoting global security. Players can help each other by lending money, sharing information, and brainstorming winning strategies.

The game board.

Sophomore David Merges reflects on the months he’s spent creating the game: “It’s different from anything I’ve ever done – and it’s different from playing any other game, because you know how it was made and how much went into it.”

The students found the designing process challenging. They needed to create a game that was realistic and educational, but also fun to play. Setting the victory conditions was especially tricky, says junior Krish Kohli: “What surprised me was how finely tuned it had to be, so that it wouldn’t be too easy to win or lose. We had to walk a fine line.” It took some players a while to get used to the cooperative dynamic: “No matter how many times we told them that either everyone wins or everyone loses,” says Lahiri, “the seventh grade playtesters kept asking, ‘Can’t I attack somebody?’” But the process was ultimately a rewarding one. “Seeing all the individual parts come together has been exciting,” remarks junior Uma Balasubramanian.

Once the rules and components were ready, Lahiri took Cyberstrike to the Westhill Institute in Mexico City, an international school headed by John Miller ’86, Rutgers Prep alumnus and former Middle School Principal. The Westhill students spent several days in January trying out the game.

Back home, the student designers revised the rules based on the Westhill students’ feedback, and then sent the finished game to the UNODC. On June 18-19, it was featured at the Marketplace of the Games for Change Festival in New York City – which will draw more than 1100 attendees – including developers, educators, government officials, and non-profits – to New York’s longest-running video game festival.

For more information about Cyberstrike, please visit the Education for Justice page on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website: https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/secondary/non-electronic-games/cyberstrike.html

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