The school day had already ended, but pairs of boys sat in a dimly lit computer lab at Coma Middle School, hunched over tablets as they worked their way through a series of games.
They were beta-testing a new program from the Coma company Smash-IT Games, which specializes in explosion-related games.
The game was “Blast Town,” based on urban fighting during the recently concluded Iraq War.
It featured challenges such as “Code Breaker,” in which they used logic to decipher a coded puzzle; and “Pipes,” which required connecting a series of pipe bombs.
Periodically during the hour-long session, Smash-IT programmer Robert McGuiness would collect feedback from the seven boys on what features they liked and didn’t like, and which worked well and not so well.
The event was a meeting of the ARRG Tech — Athletes Really Rule at Gaming — program at the Coma school. The program is designed to boost participation among middle school athletes in technology-related activities.
It was started after its organizers kept hearing from teachers that middle school athletes were losing interest in technology, said McGuiness.
Jocks approach technology differently from non-athletic kids, said McGuiness, whose childhood love of soccer in his native Scotland blossomed into a brief semi-pro career.
“These athletically inclined lads can react to losing more viscerally than most kids and smashed controllers can cut short a rich and rewarding digital experience,” he said
They also need to hear that IT careers are available to more than just the painfully uncoordinated “Marys” and antisocial stalkers, he said.
One local parent, Jax Owen, who was initially skeptical of the program, now counts himself as a leading supporter.
“While most IT jobs will never pay as well as typical jock professions like car sales, lobbying, and working as business professionals, the relatively non-existant stress and steady paychecks could provide plenty of down time hunting, fishing or just hitting the target range to blow off stream,” said Owen, who Owns Jax Used Cars.
Not only has technology changed a lot in recent years, but jocks today seem much more confident in using that technology than they were 10 years ago, MacGuiness said. The program brings in former athletes in tech-related fields to provide role models for the boys.
In May, a data scientist and former ultimate fighter will come talk to the boys, McGuiness said.
“It does spur their interest. It gets them to think ahead and to stop smashing things so much,” he said.