06:50am Saturday 04 April 2020

Sailor the Pufferfish game has top tips for asthma kids

Sam Sarjant and Dacre Denny, both PhD students in the Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, have created a computer game and an online colouring activity featuring Sailor the Pufferfish for Asthma Waikato.

The games are being distributed to schools, and will be formally launched on Friday, September 16.

The project is aimed at raising awareness of asthma among 5-9 year olds, with the games specifically focusing on kids with asthma. Asthma Waikato has linked with Sport Waikato’s Project Energize to deliver Sailor into every Waikato school.

In the website game, Sailor has to jump to reach fruit snacks and sports equipment while avoiding dust clouds and nasty dust mites.

At the start of each ‘day’, Sailor also has to jump for his asthma preventer to make sure he has enough air to stay healthy. An indicator at the top of the screen in the form of a pair of lungs shows how much strength he has left; when the level is low Sailor starts wheezing and can’t jump as well.

Business Manager for Asthma Waikato Vikki Blundell says the initiative is all about educating and supporting kids so they can take control of their asthma rather than letting it control them.

“Here in the Waikato, we have really big problems with asthma – Waikato DHB statistics show that approximately 250 kids are admitted to hospital each year, and 97% of those admissions could be avoided,” she says.

“We wanted to engage with kids so we’ve developed Sailor the Pufferfish as a positive image for taking control of asthma. The website game is a great support tool to reinforce some simple messages about asthma in a way that kids enjoy.”

For technical help, Asthma Waikato approached Dr Angela Martin in the Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, who developed a project plan to meet the organisation’s needs.

Game developers Sarjant and Denny jumped at the chance to get involved. They drew on their experience of entering the annual Global Game Jam for the past three years, and they also talked to an asthma nurse to make sure they were incorporating the right messages.

“Ideally, to control their asthma, kids should be using a preventer (if they’ve been prescribed one) at the start and end of each day, rather than overusing their reliever,” says Denny.

“We found out that preventers come in three colours, so we used that at the start of the game – kids can choose which colour they want – to make it relevant to them and to reinforce the importance of using a preventer.”

The game has proved a huge success with tester groups. “It was amazing how long the kids could keep going,” says Sarjant. “They were really hooked.”

Blundell says she’s delighted with the results. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” she says. “We just had this icon that we wanted to turn into a game and Sam and Dacre came along and brought it to life.”

Asthma Waikato is now working with Dr Martin and a group of third-year Waikato computer science students on an Apple application using Sailor the Pufferfish.

Visit sailorthepufferfish.co.nz to try your hand at the games.

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