Four Emirati students from Khalifa University have designed an interactive computer game to teach children about the UAE's culture, language, history and environment.
The game, "Around The UAE”, won third place in the recent Innovative Cultural Project Competition held by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.
The competition is intended to develop Emirati talent at local universities and strengthen national identity through sponsorship.
The game follows the adventures of two characters, Rashed and Aisha, and requires students to identify UAE wildlife, solve problems presented in Arabic and answer questions about the history of the country.
Each of the seven levels represents a different emirate, teaching children, for example, the wildlife and environment of Abu Dhabi such as the houbara and the gazelle, and the trading history of Dubai.
The computer engineering students have just completed their first year at university.
"This idea was the closest thing to us as it was about our culture,” said Fatima Al Muhairi, the 18-year-old team leader.
She said the game, aimed at children between the ages of nine and 12, touches on important topics. "It's good for children to understand these things about our culture. It's about all the seven emirates, so not only does it enhance their Arabic but it helps them see the traditions and what each emirate is known for,” said Ms Al Muhairi.
In Abu Dhabi, the first level, children have to catch as many native animals as they can to earn points to progress to level two, Dubai, where they have to hunt for things in the souq.
Maitha Al Daheri, 18, said there was more work to do before the game would be available through the iPhone App store.
"Currently it's on a CD, but the kids we have tried it out on have really enjoyed it. I tried it on my cousins – two boys and two girls as it's not gender specific. They all really liked it and didn't know the information they learnt from the game.
"While they can't play each other, they have been very competitive and want to get the highest scores. It's a fun learning tool.”
In the Umm Al Qaiwain level the children shoot pigeons, and in Ras Al Khaimah they race horses.
"The new generation has been raised in a very modern environment, so we need to teach them this history,” said Halima Al Naqbi, 18.
One of the inspirations for the four girls – the other student is Eiman Al Rubaei – for the idea was a quote from Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, who said: "One who has no past has no future.”
Ms Al Daheri said the Arabic language is a key focus of the game. "The young generation are so focused on English and there's less attention on Arabic so the game is a good way for children to stay connected to this.
"They don't really know that much vocabulary in Arabic like they do in English. From this game, they learnt the Arabic names for traditional pieces of history, places and animal names. We'd really like to take this into schools.”
While this is not something the women plan to make a career of, Ms Al Daheri said: "We really hope to take this farther. It's been a really fun project for us.”