Old Tech Powers New Opportunities

A new project co-founded by a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student is creating educational games for extremely affordable computers that are gaining popularity in developing nations.

PlayPower grew from an idea Derek Lomas had while attending a conference in India, where he noticed that families were snatching up $12 computer systems right and left. The 8-bit computers are not very powerful, but the processor that powers the PC (the MOS 6502, which powered the Apple II and Nintendo NES) is in the public domain, meaning that development is relatively easy and inexpensive.

Lomas told the Post Gazette, “It doesn’t require a $50 million development budget to make a great game.”

The PlayPower team is currently at work on three games, two of which feature the Hindu deity Hanuman. One Hanuman-starring title will teach users how to type, with the hopes that such a skill could translate into better job opportunities, while the second is a multiple-choice quiz-type game. The third title in development will try to raise awareness of malaria.

Lomas added, “I think that many of the more powerful educational effects of the system can be in the way it changes a kid’s interest and ambitions.”

Lomas anticipates that all three games can be finished this year. He also hopes to build a relationship with those selling the computers so that PlayPower’s software can be bundled in.

Over 1,000 volunteers from around the world are already on-board to assist in game development. PlayPower also hopes to harness the growing 8-bit retro community for assistance in future releases.

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