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Monday, October 18, 2010
Duke City Teenagers Meeting President
By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque teen Jack Hanson is meeting President Barack Obama today as a reward for winning a national competition to create a new level for the popular Spore video game.
"I'm really nervous," the 13-year-old Hanson said Sunday during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was awaiting the big moment with his mom, dad and sister Haley, 15, who is also going to the White House since she helped Jack with the project.
Spore is a video game in which the player guides an organism as it evolves from the cell stage all the way to a species that can explore outer space.
Jack won the Game Changers Kids Competition, which is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC, a virtual network of learning institutions. Haley will also receive an award for her LittleBigPlanet game level entry.
According to a press release, judges liked the way Jack incorporated artificial intelligence and randomizing principles into his level, giving players the option of replaying the level because new situations arise from new choices.
"I wanted my level to be interesting and new each time someone plays it," Jack said in the release. "I made it so that there are different problems, but there are lots of different ways to solve those problems."
Jack and Haley are home-schooled by their mother, Lori Hanson, who has a background in computer science and mathematics.
"I think all these children that were born in 1980 and forward have so much opportunity," Lori Hanson said, referring to the level of familiarity that generation has with computers. "I'm behind the curve on what they're doing."
Jack said the creation of his level took about two weeks. His sister helped him develop a story line and played the level to ensure it worked properly. She said that working with her brother was pretty easy.
"We work well together most of the time, like 98 percent of the time," Haley said. "But we do have our differences. It is a plus that, in the middle of the night, if you have an idea, you can just run down the hall and say, 'Hey, I just had this idea!' "
The trip to the White House was an unexpected surprise.
"It wasn't listed on the prize descriptions," Jack said.
Haley said they just found out about it Thursday.
Jack said the other prize is a trip to California to visit the headquarters of game company Electronic Arts Inc., which puts out Spore.
When the Hansons meet the president, they'll be participating in the White House's first Science Fair, which celebrates the winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math competitions.
According to a White House release, the White House event will kick off a week that culminates with the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall and in over 50 satellite locations.