OTTAWA (CUP) — A video game developed by Carleton University alumna Sana Maqsood is now available to classrooms across Canada by the non-profit organization MediaSmarts to help tweens and teens learn about digital literacy.
The game, titled “A Day in the Life of the Jos,” was developed by the computer science doctoral graduate with Carleton’s Human-Oriented Research in Usable Security Lab.
Maqsood said she designed the game to educate young people about online security. MediaSmarts, the organization that will be providing the game to classrooms, develops resources and programs to advance media literacy in Canada.
Mathew Johnson, the director of education at MediaSmarts, said the company’s resources are most often found by teachers and parents on their website and presented to students.
The game simulates decisions that children will have to make when they are online through the perspectives of two characters, Jo and Josie. While it does not tell them what the right and wrong decisions are, it informs them of the consequences of each choice.
According to Maqsood, some social media safety topics such as avoiding scams can be difficult for children. The game aims to deal with that by encouraging critical thinking.
“The scenarios that we were presenting to the children … made them take a step back and think about what is the right thing to do,” she said.
One scenario Josie faces in the game involves wanting to post a photo of a friend on social media. The player is then asked whether Josie should post the photo, ask for permission or do something else.
“The choice is not clear here … they need to take a step back and think about each of the options, the consequences associated with each of the options, and then make a choice,” Maqsood said.
Johnson said the company has seen “scare tactics” in other resources similar to its resources, presenting children with “really dramatic possible consequences.”
“What we’ve found is that it actually backfires because it is so foreign to their experience. It probably hasn’t happened to them or anyone they know,” he said.
This is why this game presents children with realistic scenarios with stakes that are more relevant to children, such as being late to school or feeling embarrassed.
Maqsood said while social media companies make you agree to terms and conditions about your privacy and security before creating an account, they are often difficult for children to understand. They will usually just agree without actually knowing what they are agreeing to, she added.
“All of these platforms have a huge responsibility,” she said. “They should be designing technology in a way that is usable [and] easier for children to understand.”
Although Maqsood believes social media companies need to take responsibility and protect young children using their platforms, she said she does not see that happening any time soon, which makes it necessary for children to be educated in digital literacy.
“[Social media platforms] benefit a lot from making it difficult for children,” she said. “If you look at a lot of technology that’s designed for children, there are [advertisements] built into it because it’s profitable for the platform.”
With social media platforms like TikTok becoming popular among younger people, Maqsood said children are now being faced with online security issues at much younger ages. Children are being exposed to cyberbullying earlier than they would have been in years past, she said.
According to Sonia Chiasson, a professor in Carleton’s school of computer science who was involved in the game’s creation, children and teens sometimes make questionable, impulsive decisions, which are now more risky in the internet age.
“This has always been true, but in previous decades, they didn’t have to live with a permanent public record of these actions,” she said.
Maqsood said that with children going on social media at younger ages and social media companies not doing their part to protect them, educators need to teach children digital literacy at younger ages through accessible methods such as video games.