Cabell Midland student wins video game design challenge

By JOSEPHINE MENDEZ, The Herald-Dispatch

ONA, W.Va. (AP) — When it comes to video games, some might say they are a waste of time.

However, for Asad Ranavaya, a junior at Cabell Midland High School, playing video games actually paid off, quite literally.

Like many kids, Ranavaya spent his summer playing video games. But unlike most kids, he was playing at the request of West Virginia’s governor.

In May, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin challenged West Virginia students to participate in the State Capitol Minecraft Design/Build contest, which was a collaborative effort involving the Governor’s STEM Initiative, the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts and the Education Alliance.

Their task was to either create a new version of the state capitol building or produce a replica of the current complex using “Minecraft,” a video game that allows users to create their own structures using textured cubes.

Ranavaya said it wasn’t until June that he heard about the competition through a friend.

“I remember thinking that the competition sounded really cool,” he said. “I had been playing Minecraft since I was in fifth grade, so I knew I had some experience and skills and could do it.”

Ranavaya said he was determined to make the best re-creation possible. Even living about an hour away from the state capitol in Huntington didn’t serve as an obstacle.

Though it had been a while since he’d last visited the capitol, he said he knew with a bit of research he could find everything he needed online.

“To get the right dimensions for the outside I used Google Maps and Google Earth,” he said. “The interior was much more difficult. For that, I used floor plans and photos that I found online.”

With his research complete, Ranavaya set about making his designs using pen and paper.

“I set up a block to actual feet ratio so that I could make it look as realistic as possible,” he said. “Then I started doing the exterior section by section. For the inside I had to use a more condensed ratio to get everything to fit and look like the pictures.”

While he completed the entire project in the summer, Ranavaya said a lot of what he had been learning in school came in handy when designing the replica.

“A lot of kids don’t really think of games as being able to use the math they learned in school and to actually apply it in real life and get recognition for their skills,” he said “But with ‘Minecraft,’ I was able to use so much of what I learned in school. Of course, if you just want to play the base game you can, but if you want to go into it you can learn coding and engineering. This game nurtures creatively to any extent you want.”

In total, Ranavaya said it took him two weeks to complete the project.

“I honestly though it would take me much longer, but I can’t remember doing anything else during those two weeks,” he said.

In the end, Ranavaya said he was pleased with his design and apparently so were the judges.

In late November, Tomblin announced Ranavaya as the top winner in the replica category.

“I was pretty surprised when I found out,” Ranavaya said. “I had viewed other kids’ submissions on YouTube and thought theirs were really good so there was no way I would be in the top.”

For his winning design, Ranavaya won a $1,000 gift card for Amazon and a Surface Pro 4.

He was also recognized along with the other winners during a ceremony at the capitol.

During the ceremony, Ranavaya said the governor talked about the needs for more engineering minds in West Virginia and the importance of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“West Virginia’s workforce needs are evolving and in order to fill jobs in the future, all of us — from K-12, higher education, and workforce and economic development — must work together to provide our students access to the best STEM education opportunities,” Tomblin said in a release.

Ranavaya said he plans to be part of that evolving workforce.

“My long-term goal right now is to be a lawyer or maybe a politician,” he said “I want to get a degree in law but also in civil engineering so I can specialize in maybe patent law. Maybe one day I’ll even work in one of those offices I built.”

Though Ranavaya is still a ways off from putting these plans into action, he said it is important for kids to dream big and realize just how much the skills they learn in school can help down the road.

He added that even games like “Minecraft” can play a role in achieving those dreams.

“Who knew I would get recognized for playing a video game?” he said. “I think it just goes to show that anything is possible.”

To view Ranavaya’s submitted capitol design, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5YE05HLXwQ.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com