By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- For children, playing games is as natural as breathing. One video gaming company started by Vero Beach natives is hoping to capitalize on that love of play and create a virtual world where students can play and learn simultaneously.
Lindsey Tropf is the CEO and founder of Immersed Games, an educational gaming startup based in Gainesville. She and her team have a long-term goal of creating a social online learning game set in a virtual world.
Currently the company is hosting an online fundraising campaign through Kickstarter to help cover the cost of programming and building the game to make it available to the general public.
In today's world, many children spend countless hours playing in imaginary worlds using computers or other electronic devices and truly become invested in the game, the game story and even other characters within the game, Ms. Tropf said.
While she was a student at Sebastian River High School, Ms. Tropf was introduced to her first massive multiplayer online role playing game, Achaea, and she quickly became wrapped up in the game world.
"I was obsessed," Ms. Tropf said. "Maybe one-third of my time was spent playing that game. Eventually I realized that everything I knew about the game, the world, the characters, the creatures, none of that mattered outside the game world. I thought it would be awesome to use something like that, an immersive world that linked with real learning," she said.
There are educational video games in the market, but the games tend to be short and contain perhaps a few hours of content before the game has been "won" or completed. Immersed Games has created a game concept, Tyto Online, where there is an entire world with an enormous backstory so there is constantly new things for players to explore.
Tyto Online's storyline would include challenges players would have to accept and meet in order to advance their character in the virtual world, and those challenges, or quests, would be the platform for learning opportunities.
As the small company is just now raising the funds to produce the game, the game would be rolled out in phases, or modules, with the first module focused on ecology, Ms. Tropf said.
Eventually, as funding increases, further modules would be able to have other focus areas, including arts, history, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, a press release said.
Ms. Tropf, a doctoral candidate in school psychology at the University of Florida, is also working on a dissertation in educational games.
"At first I thought I just wanted to study educational games, but as a gamer, I realized there wasn't anyone doing what I thought I could do," Ms. Tropf said.
Tyto Online's storyline starts in the future, in the 2200s, when Earth leaders and scientists realize the world is becoming unable to sustain life. A mass evacuation was ordered and some people were put in a sleeping state. In the game, the player is one of those sleepers who has been awakened and is tasked with learning, exploring and with an overall mission to one day restore Earth, a press release said.
The ecology seemed to be like the best fit for the first phase rollout of the game, as it both matches the storyline and is one of the areas of study one of the target audiences, middle-schoolers, are learning about, Ms. Tropf said.
Kickstarter is an online fundraising site used by many people and companies to make projects a reality. According to the Kickstarter website, since 2009, 6.7 million people have pledged $1 billion, funding 66,000 creative projects.
The Kickstarter goal to create the first release of Tyto Online is $50,000. As of July 29, there was $37,952 pledged. The fundraising campaign has a deadline and the goal must be reached for the project to receive any money.
To donate toward the Kickstarter campaign, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/immersed/tyto-online-learning-mmorpg. For more information about Immersed Games, visit www.immersedgames.com or www.facebook.com/immersedgames.