Conflict & Justice

Video game trains Cambodian kids to avoid land mines


A Cambodian woman carrying a baby walks by a land mine awareness sign in the former Khmer Rouge's stronghold Pailin near the Thai border some 375 kilometers north west of the capital, Phnom Penh, in 2007.



Michigan State professors have developed a video game for Cambodian kids living among the remnants of war: tiny, unexploded bombs and land mines left behind by decades of war.

The game is called "Undercover UXO," reports Brendan Brady in the L.A. Times. The game, funded with about $78,000 from the U.S. State Department, involves guiding a dog through a mine-strewn landscape.

What happens if your doggie fails to heed bright red signs marked with a skull and crossbones?

You lose, of course. Since this isn't Grand Theft Auto, the pooch isn't graphically blown to bits. ""When an explosion is triggered," Brady reports, "a mine specialist character appears onscreen to explain what happened and how to avoid repeating the mistake."

The point is to drill kids on the seriousness of warning signs that designate areas rife with mines -- just like the one in this photo.

In an interview last year with a Michigan newspaper, one of the developers explained that the game "should be fun enough that a kid wants to play this game over and over again … and get enough repetition that when it transfers out into the real world, it translates into actual changes in behavior,” Bohil said.

The developers also explained to the L.A. Times that gameplay elements could be adapted to other cultures. For example, a maneuverable goat could replace the dog character for kids in Islamic cultures such as Afghanistan, where canines are considered unclean.