SERIOUS FUN: Champlain College students create a video game about dangers of mercury for Vermont Department of Environmental ConservationIn the entertainment industry today, animated movies are developed concurrently with video games based on those movies—The Incredibles and Madagascar are two recent examples. Champlain College students are mimicking that industry trend this summer, but instead of a story about espionage, comedy or romance, the students have a higher goal: educating youngsters about the dangers of mercury.The Champlain students were tapped to create an animated video and a video game about mercury, a substance that can have devastating effects on humans and animals and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. This serious game project is believed to be the first of its kind. It is coordinated by the State of Vermonts Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Supplemental Environmental Project.We decided to deliver mercury information through an animation and game because it is a way to target an important audience young people who can be severely impacted by mercury poisoning, said DEC Mercury Program Coordinator Karen Knaebel. The video will cover fundamental information on mercury in the environment and the video game will reinforce that learning.A dozen Electronic Game & Interactive Design students and Multimedia & Graphic Design students at Champlain College were selected for the job and they are working as a team of consultants with two faculty members: Eric Sample and Joe Manley. The students are earning six college credits for their hard work, plus a stipend.The team has been tasked with a short timeline to ensure completion by the time the school year begins in the fall. The video and video game will be used by teachers in classrooms starting this fall throughout Vermont. There is a possibility that this unique educational tool could be in demand on a national level, as well.Beyond the technical challenges they deal with, the students were faced with the difficult task of developing story lines and characters that are engaging enough to appeal to a discriminating audience of middle-school children. Part of the development process has included game testing by students from nearby Edmunds Middle School. We had to make it hip for eighth-graders, said Eric Sample of the Champlain faculty, who added, This is excellent training for our students.Our program is attracting clients from the serious game side of the business, said Ann DeMarle, director of Champlains one-year-old Electronic Game & Interactive Development program. Were capturing technology and harnessing it for a good purpose.Additionally, this coming year the Electronic Game students will work on a serious game for a new Vermont nonprofit called NeighborKeepers. The game will teach youngsters about the hidden rules of class. The client is Hal Colston, who is focused on helping single-parent families climb out of poverty.