ATEC Students Unveil 2nd Game About Life Lessons

With the launch of its second serious game, the UT Dallas Values Game Initiative once again hopes to provoke deep discussions and morality checks.

Endless Life, created by gaming students in the UT Dallas Arts and Technology (ATEC) program, presents a humorous view of what life-extending technology could do to a society. The game made its debut online Nov. 15.

Players must keep the character running on a treadmill at just the right speed to stay alive in Endless Life.

“As science and technology allow us to extend our lives indefinitely, how will we deal with the monotony of everyday life?” Jacob Naasz, one of the game’s core developers, writes on the game website. “And when death doesn’t occur naturally or due to illness, but through accidents and mishaps, how many of us will retreat into our homes or other ‘safe’ places instead of fully living our lives? Endless Life invites players not only to laugh, but also to engage in conversations about the potential effects that longer lives might have on our workplaces, our homes and ourselves.”

Players control the game’s character with arrow keys and the spacebar. Every day the character goes to work, and if he survives the day, he returns home with points. If he doesn’t make it home, he loses points.  But if he chooses to stay home, no more points can be earned. The goal of the game is to collect as many points as possible, but to what end?

Failures on the job have disastrous consequences for the character in Endless Life.

Said Dr. Monica Evans, assistant professor in the ATEC program and project supervisor, “The wonderful thing about Endless Life is that it tackles very serious subjects – namely, our quality of life and our sometimes irrational fear of untimely death – with humor. A lot of that humor comes through in the game’s numerous animations, so we’re very lucky to have such talented students in that field.”

The Values Game Initiative is a project intended to create and develop serious games that further the mission and themes of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at UT Dallas. These games are designed to teach and explore pressing issues through new models for digital education. The games tie into the Center’s Incite Your Curiosity lectures, a series focused on the possibilities and implications of human enhancement. The first game to be produced, Marching Ever Onward, first appeared on the Center for Values website Sept. 20.

The game design team, made up of 16 graduate and undergraduate ATEC students who serve roles from animator to sound designer to programmer, aims to produce the remaining games by the end of the lecture series in April.

Learning Communities Pay Multiple Dividends

Year After Debut, Residence Hall Groups Get High Marks from Students, Staff

When the University Village residence hall opened in fall 2009, the 148,000-square-foot building offered more than just private bedrooms and ping-pong tables:  It allowed a space for like-minded collegians to congregate under one roof and study, volunteer and have fun together.

Students participating in Living Learning Communities live in the Residence Hall, share common academic goals and volunteer for service projects together.

These new Living Learning Communities—in which small groups of select freshmen who live in the hall and share common academic goals or interests— turned out to benefit students in other ways, too.  That’s because retention rates from freshman to sophomore year for students participating in the communities was 95.5 percent, compared with retention for the rest of the freshman class, which was approximately 83 percent.

“It’s very strong data indicating that academic and social opportunities, along with a strong sense of community offered by the Living Learning program, has a positive impact on students and contributes to their connection to UT Dallas,” said Dr. Cynthia Jenkins, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and who oversees the initiative.

Students in LLCs study together, participate in service projects and social events, and interact closely with faculty.  Currently, there are more than 150 community members spread across five academic disciplines:  Arts & Technology (ATEC), Engineering and Computer Science, Management, Music and Pre-Health.

  • The ATEC community helps aspiring animators, gamers and sound designers develop their technical skills and artistic talents.  Members have met with industry experts and representatives from Dreamworks and the Janimation studio in Dallas.
  • The Management LLC has met with the school’s dean, Dr. Hasan Pirkul, and other faculty, including one activity where students created three course meals in the hall’s common kitchen, which were judged by the dean.
  • The Music community offers a venue for students who share a common interest in music performance and appreciation.  Among other activities, members attend concerts and have been granted backstage access to ask questions about rehearsals, casting, costumes and other aspects of performance.
  • The Pre-Health community brings together students pursuing careers in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and related professions.  Members have attended conferences to learn about the medical school application process and learned first-hand about the realities of the healthcare industry.

    Members of the Engineering and Computer Science community have taken part in competitions and volunteered at a robotics competition for middle school-aged children.

UT Dallas senior Hayley Tiefenthaler, an LLC adviser, pointed out that there is a growing interest in sophomore Living Learning Communities, such as ATEC’s SLATE program (Sophomore Living Learning Arts & Technology Experience) and Pre-Health’s SPARC program (Sophomore Pre-Health Academic Residential Community), which have been formed to maintain the relationships forged during freshman year.

“LLC students have found their niche in a college environment, a place with great friends who share common interests.  It’s a close-knit community where we know and care for one another,” Tiefenthaler said.

LLC members are not limited exclusively to events within their communities, according to Mary Jane Suarez Partain, assistant director for student life programs.

“Last semester, nine students from several different communities went to Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, for an Alternative Spring Break trip,” Partain said.  “Students had a three-day immersion experience on the ranch and learned about third-world situations, including living in impoverished areas, manual labor and hunger.

Overall, the living learning model has been a great experience for our students, and I look forward to continued growth and community expansion within the program.”