Belfast Telegraph

Fancy running Northern Ireland? Schoolboy’s new game shortlisted for award

Rossa Smallman has designed the new computer game
Rossa Smallman has designed the new computer game
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Ever thought you could run Northern Ireland better than our politicians? Thanks to one schoolboy, you'll soon be able to do just that.

Rossa Smallman (18), a pupil at St Joseph's Boys School in Londonderry, has developed a computer game that allows players to control politics and society here.

Pax Hibernia - which means 'Ireland At Peace' in Latin - sees players deal with nationalism, unionism, tension, riots and even Brexit as First Minister.

Successful players provide balance and harmony in every situation. Unsuccessful players run the place into the ground and have to start again from scratch.

Rossa's game, which is at the concept and development stage, has been shortlisted for a prestigious UK-wide Bafta accolade that could see his idea brought to fruition.

He explained: "Last summer I entered the Nuffield Research Programme. I got a placement in Ulster University at Magee to perform a research project and for mine I decided to look at how games could be used to promote civic and democratic engagement.

"Through that I created a game where you could manage Northern Ireland by running its cabinet ministers and social and economic policies.

"In it you are given the goal of peace and reconciliation. After that I was left with a plan and I wanted to develop it further.

"So I did and I drew out storyboards and submitted it to the Bafta Young Game Designers Awards and they chose me as a finalist."

There are 10 other finalists, but Rossa is the only one from here.

He added: "If I win I will receive training from professional game developers and those who are experienced in the industry. I will get licences from specialists and industry standard software. And, of course, there is the potential for my game to be created."

Rossa's game puts player in the political driving seat. What they do with that power is their business.

"In the game you are basically appointed First Minister," he explained. "The structure has been changed to be a little more fun.

"You manage six cabinet ministers. You yourself can't directly interact with Northern Ireland, you have to send your ministers to do so. Your ministers each have their own special traits, specialities and personalities that may or not mix well with one another. So that teaches the player how to use diversity in a democratic setting."

Players will manage republicanism, unionism, people who are neutral or don't care at all, and have to deal with the problems that occur from that. Throughout the game you are managing the stability of each, because if you get a positive action to work on one side, it might negatively affect the other side. So, you are playing a balancing act between the two constantly."

Rossa said he finds the local political situation infuriating.

"I think it's just really frustrating," he added.

"I know that it's not easy to make a government, but we haven't had one for nearly two-and-a-half years.

"I'm pretty sure it's easy enough to do in that time. If that sort of deadlock can be pushed over and people can get along to compromise - you don't have to like one another, just work with each other - that would be good enough.

Rossa will travel to London to attend the Bafta Young Game Designers Awards on June 29, where he and the 10 others will vie to see their gaming dream come true.

Belfast Telegraph

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