Pranav Patil is only 15, but he probably speaks the language of the future better than you do.
Patil is a student, a teacher, and a formidable competitor–he is a two-time Congressional App Challenge winner. His 2017 winning app, Cyber Champion, teaches users about cybersecurity. The app has also recently won the “Games for Change” category from a pool of more than 3,000 entries in the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Patil is a finalist for Project Paradigm.
He then began competing in CyberPatriot, a cybersecurity competition that teaches students to secure servers. This is where Patil would first hone in on his passion for cybersecurity education.
After a year of “relentless training,” Patil and his team made it to the National Finals. They became the CyberPatriot Middle School Division National Champions.
USING GAMES TO INCREASE AWARENESS
“I wanted to use what I learned to help others. I saw an opportunity to use game development to spread awareness about cybersecurity,” Patil said of the experience. This is how Cyber Champion was born.
Cyber Champion is a platform where the player learns to stay safe online by making decisions in various situations. “The design of the game is similar to a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book,” he said, “where each situation branches out into two or three more, with about fifty possible situations to encounter.”
Players are able to make decisions in every room and through their own agency and knowledge of cybersecurity, creatively achieve the goal of nine total successful endings to the game.
Patil designed this as a web game with an eye towards to maximizing accessibility and user-friendliness, making this complex topic fun and digestible for younger users, and appealing to a generation that is growing up online. Cyber Champion accomplishes its goals both in its process and with its transcendent, real-life lessons.
“To learn about cybersecurity,” Patil said, “you need to experience it and make mistakes.” Therein lies the brilliance of Patil’s app; by gamifying this process, the high schooler created a virtual environment for millennial users to not only learn about cybersecurity, but also activate the agency required to practice it in a simulated environment.
WHAT IT MEANS TO WIN THE CONGRESSIONAL APP CHALLENGE
Cyber Security won the 2017 Congressional App Challenge for California’s 49th District, which gave Patil’s game exposure that he described as “encouraging and motivating.”
“Every year, I make sure to create something for the Congressional App Challenge; it motivates me to keep coding, even when I get busy,” he said.
Currently, Patil is still educating himself on cybersecurity and coding projects. Beyond games, he is writing scripts to automate security settings in Linux, creating websites, working on robots at school, and teaching cybersecurity classes at local elementary schools using Cyber Champion as part of the curriculum.
He has not stopped making games, either. His current project is a game called “The World of Engineers,” which is designed to encourage kids to pursue engineering by demonstrating its impact on everyday life.
Patil will continue to code games in high school. He aims to develop applicable skills to real life — and possibly mobile apps. “I love being able to design an idea and see it come to life. It’s amazing being able to create something others can use and enjoy,” he said.
Patil dreams of continuing his work in cybersecurity and working on a startup tackling issues in that theme.