Social Impact Internships: Darren Lim (’23)
Hi there! My name is Darren Lim, and I’m currently a rising senior majoring in Computer Science and Cognitive Science (6-9). I am originally from the suburbs of Seattle, WA, and in the past, I’ve worked with various startups, research positions, and a non-profit during my time at MIT. This summer, I am working with the City of Boston within the Department of Innovation and Technology to promote awareness of and action for natural disasters and climate change in innovative and technological ways. In my case, this meant that I ended up, firstly, building the entire City of Boston in a video game, and secondly, creating a game for players that went through simulated disaster scenarios to learn + prepare for real Boston-level disasters for the future!
It’s becoming increasingly important for the public to learn about the effects of climate change on our daily lives, especially as global temperatures rise and an increasing number of cities around the world continue to reach record-breaking temperatures. Climate change is a big problem, and more than ever, we need fresh and motivated minds to help us, as a world, combat it.
My work this summer is working to help bridge this gap. Specifically, my work targets to educate the younger communities in Boston. More and more kids are becoming intimately familiar with the computer, and specifically video games, so why not cater for them in that way? For this project, I used Minecraft, a very popular open-world sandbox game that allows its players to move around and play with a simplified “blocky” version of the world around them. However, along with all the capabilities the game has on its own, arguably its best feature is that it can be enhanced using code to create different capabilities and entire games within Minecraft. In the past, Minecraft has been used to from anything to letting its players play the Hunger Games as one of the tributes to having its players cultivate a peaceful farm on a floating island in space.
I grew up with Minecraft, and to be honest, I can say with high certainty that because of Minecraft, I got inspired by and learned my first programming language. I would go as far to say that my computer science path thus far was sparked by the things I learned in this game.
A few years back, a friend and I ended up teaching game design and game development using none other than Minecraft itself (our experiences with this are documented very thoroughly here: https://minecraftgamedev.github.io/resources/). Essentially, we ended up using Minecraft as a motivational platform to teach students how to program increasingly difficult and complex programming concepts, all while using a game! All of this is to say that when I was tasked this summer to create an educational platform using Minecraft, I knew what I had to do.
At the beginning of my internship, I built out a framework and platform to automatically convert the City of Boston into Minecraft using Bash and Python scripts. The Boston Planning and Development Agency gives 3D models of the city for free online in a 3D-model friendly format. Since this isn’t inherently compatible with Minecraft blocks themselves, they had to be converted in various ways. In the end, I worked with various departments in Boston, such as the Office of Emergency Management and the Environment Department, to plan a game that would most effectively teach kids about climate change while also giving them a platform to think about how to face disasters as they come. For instance, in the game, the player is introduced to the city by an in-game mayor, and is quickly pushed into their first challenge when the mayor warns them that a flood will be soon affecting the city, which gives the player the responsibility to save the residents and mitigate the disaster in any way possible. Later on, players are introduced to other likely scenarios such as heat waves and hurricanes, and much like the flood, they are given the freedom to try and solve the problems best they can in-game before it is too late.
Throughout this internship, I learned a lot about how public sectors, like the City of Boston, are working to help mitigate natural disasters before they damage the city and hurt its residents. I learned that Boston is one of many coastal cities that is prone to flooding in the upcoming years (https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/flooding-boston). Above all, I learned that although it may seem like climate change is tearing our world apart bit by bit, we still do have a shot at combating this issue. However, we need everybody’s help to combat the problem of climate change, and we need everybody’s help to work at mitigating the damages that will come in the upcoming years here on Earth. I know there are a lot of ways for people to help out, and I definitely learned a lot about how the public sector prioritizes and creates impactful work on a daily basis. I hope that with my work this summer, I could also help out by using an engaging platform I personally knew best.
My work this summer will be made publicly available and can be found through the following links:
Server to play the game: https://github.com/darren-lim-boston/boston-loader-server
Additionally, I’ve included links to the code that made this game possible below:
Plugins that make the game possible:
Bash/Python scripts that modeled Boston in Minecraft:
Forked repository that helped convert the models to Minecraft-friendly data formats: https://github.com/darren-lim-boston/ObjToSchematic