Computer science student wins $1000 with game pitch

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Computer science junior Callie Koch combined a love for game design with her understanding of social anxiety to pitch a social situation simulator that won her team $1,000.

At the Games4Health online design competition on March 30, the team created the virtual reality game concept of “Hi, How Are You?” to help people overcome their fears in different types of social situations by practicing interactions with simulated human characters.

“It could be anything from going to the store at the checkout line to flirting with someone, or consoling someone if they’ve lost a loved one,” Koch said. “This game will help you practice to get better and have less anxiety when you’re in that situation.”

The pitch placed in the top five of virtual reality games out of hundreds and won third in the teen mental health and wellness challenge.

The idea of the game came from Koch’s own experiences with social anxiety.

“I don’t handle a lot of social situations very well, (like) meeting people for the first time or small talk with people,” Koch said. “(The game) promotes empathy and mental health wellness by working on social anxiety, which I think a lot of people experience.”

When Koch surveyed more than 300 people about social anxiety, she found most struggled with the same issues, the most common being “flirting,” “job interviews” and “everything.”

Linguistics junior Briana Vasquez, who modeled as a character, said if the game was available to customers she would use it.

“Confidence is definitely something that you have to master over time,” Vasquez said. “There are a bunch of (situations) that I still have trouble dealing with. I think it’s that extra bit of help that is very much needed.”

Koch created the pitch with teammates Mariana Shalit from the College of Marin in California and Sarah Robertson, who said she has also experienced some difficulty in social situations.

“I was definitely a very shy awkward kid,” said Robertson, a University of South Carolina student, in a Facebook message. “It can be hard in different situations to come up with the right thing to say. ‘Hi, How Are You?’ can help people with these struggles, not only by giving them the knowledge of how to respond, but by also giving them a stress-free place to practice that knowledge.”

Although the game is not available for consumers, Koch said she and her team may make “Hi, How Are You?” a reality in the future.