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Video game by Dalhousie students trains peacekeepers how to deal with child soldiers

WATCH ABOVE: Dalhousie University students have developed an interactive training tool for peacekeepers who interact with child soldiers. The project was a partnership with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative and will be used as part of on-the-ground training in Somalia. Rebecca Lau reports.

When you think of a war-themed video game, this probably isn’t what you imagine.

Dalhousie University students in the informatics program have created a video game that will be used as a training tool for peacekeepers interacting with child soldiers in war zones.

READ MORE: Dallaire says ISIS cannot be defeated without helping child soldiers

The game walks users through scenarios where they have to decide what they say to the children and how they act.

“You can see that the child has a mood bar, so depending on which choices you selected, you can affect how the child is going to react to you even before you communicate with them verbally,” third-year student Mimi Cahill said as she gave a demonstration of the game.

The idea is to make the training as visual and interactive as possible in order to make on-the-ground training more effective.

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“With no visual elements you’re just going to be seeing raw text,” fourth-year computer science student Brian Yip said.

“But most people, they need to relate to pictures or what goes on in their life and that’s why it’s so important because if people can relate to something they’re going to like it.”

The game was designed to be used in Somalia, but can easily be customized for any area of the world without additional computer coding.

It was created in partnership with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (RDCSI), which is based at Dalhousie University.

The game’s different levels are based on a RDCSI training handbook that covers scenarios ranging from children loitering to children being used as suicide bombers.

“It basically brings the handbook to life,” RDCSI spokesperson Josh Boyter said.

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“It creates dialogue, it gives you different options and actions and walks you through the various standard operating procedures that we’ve developed in a manner that gets you to think a little bit more.”

It’s also a rewarding experience for the 11 students who worked on the project because their skills now have real-world applications.

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“It’s really nice to be able to do non-profit work as a computer scientist because these non-profit organizations might not be able to spend the money that it takes to hire developers,” Cahill said.

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“It is fairly expensive and it’s surprising how much money and effort goes into these sorts of projects so it’s great to have the opportunity for me to benefit as a student because it’s my course but also give back and do something that’s real and important and global.

RDCSI plans to deploy the game in the next few months to Somalia, where it will be used as part of on-the-ground training.

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