UCF student uses video game project as cultural preservation tool | Culture

UCF student uses video game project as cultural preservation tool | Culture

UCF student uses video game project as cultural preservation tool

Senior digital media major, Lolita Kuznietsova, works inside the Unity engine on her prototype video game at the Modera apartments Friday evening.

One UCF student at the downtown campus is finding a way to utilize a video game to preserve and share her culture.

Lolita Kuznietsova is a senior digital media major in the game design track at UCF’s downtown campus who showcased a prototype for a narrative-based game at Student Research Week last month in the Pegasus Ballroom.

Originally from Dnipro in central Ukraine, Kuznietsova moved to Orlando roughly four years ago to attend UCF. The last time she visited home was back in 2021, just before the major invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The war in Ukraine, now entering its second year, is something Kuznietsova said has split her focus over the last few years.

“Aside from my studies, I’m constantly thinking about ways to get my family out of there,” Kuznietsova said. “Doing everything I can and finding my own ways.” 

This project is not a direct response to the war, but the initial invasion served as a moment where the solo developer realized she needed to work on something. She wanted to create a project that showcased her culture in a way that would be easily accessible to all audiences.

UCF student uses video game project as cultural preservation tool

Senior digital media major Lolita Kuznietsova’s laptop runs a prototype version of her video game project in the Unity engine at the Modera apartments Friday evening.

“The project itself, the video game, is set in Soviet Ukraine,” Kuznietsova said. “And it explores both historical and mythological aspects that I believe together create a cultural understanding of a country in general.”

Kuznietsova described the project as a walking simulator that follows a writer as they are introduced to the historical and mythological aspects of Ukrainian culture. The game features a unique mechanic in diegetic book writing.

“That’s a unique mechanic where you play the game to write the book,” Kuznietsova said.

The game, once completed, will be told in three parts. The first part will touch on 20th century Ukrainian history, the second adding elements of mythology and folklore and the third part still evolving as the project is worked on.

Kuznietsova had toyed with the idea of making a project centered around her culture for some time but never initially intending on making a video game. She said from the outside, Ukraine is usually seen as a part of Russian culture which is not the case.

“The main goal of the project was to dissipate misconceptions about how Ukrainian culture is taken globally,” Kuznietsova said.

For the last two semesters, Kuznietsova has worked alone under the guidance of Dr. John T. Murray, assistant professor of games and interactive media, to create a prototype. It was Murray that pushed Kuznietsova to present her project during Student Research Week.

Student Research Week is an event put on at the main campus that shows off research projects from the student body across all majors.

“These different units come together to make a very massive event,” said Jason Burrell, assistant director for the School of Visual Arts and Design. “With over 800 student participants sharing over 500 projects across a period of a few days. It’s a massive undertaking but it represents us so well.”

Burrell was involved with judging some of the projects during the competition portions of Student Research Week. That is where he met Kunzietsova and interacted with her project.

Burrell was immediately impressed with how Kuznietsova was using elements of gamification to present her culture in a medium that was unique.

UCF student uses video game project as cultural preservation tool

Senior digital media major, Lolita Kuznietsova, works on applying textures to her video game in the Unity engine at Modera apartments Friday evening.

“Involving puzzle solving and virtual environments to engage people with the history and styles of Ukrainian culture,” Burrell said. “It was an impressive project that cleverly used contemporary points of engagement.”

Kuznietsova was nervous entering Student Research Week but found the experience to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“I didn’t know the target audience for the exhibition,” Kuznietsova said. “Obviously the younger people were like, ‘that’s a video game, let’s play it.’”

To Kuznietsova’s surprise, people of all age ranges stopped and interacted with her project. Even faculty members of different departments, like Burrell, made their way to her presentation and spoke with her.

Seeing the reaction to her project at Student Research Week has given Kuznietsova newfound inspiration for the completion of her project.

Currently the timeline for a complete project is still in question while Kuznietsova remains a solo developer with plans to graduate at the end of the semester. The developer said she would like to have the project completed and released by December 2025, but there is no hard date set at this moment.

Kuznietsova believes that this project could not only change how Ukrainian culture is received but also how video games as a medium can be used in the future.

“I think it would be cool for more people to be interested in Ukrainian culture,” Kuznietsova said. “For more people to maybe take this project, when it’s finished, to probably look at it and maybe learn something for themselves in terms of like how you can use video games as a cultural preservation tool.”

Interview with Lolita Kuznietsova, game design senior, about her narrative based video game project that seeks to educate audiences about Ukrainian history and culture at Modera apartments Friday evening.

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