A young girl sitting at desk with a laptop in front of her, possibly playing a game about cybersecurity.
Image: © Syda Productions/Stock.adobe.com

New game teaches young girls cybersecurity skills

24 Jan 2019

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has announced a new game designed by Romero Games geared at educating young girls on cybersecurity skills.

The cybersecurity industry has one of the biggest talent shortages within the tech sector. That skills gap is even more serious when you take into account the shortage of women working in cybersecurity.

In an effort to tackle this problem, Hewlett Packard Enterprise has today (24 January) announced the launch of a curriculum to educate young girls about cybersecurity skills.

Launched in partnership with Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital, the programme will help girls safely navigate the internet, covering fundamental knowledge and best practices. As part of the programme, Hewlett Packard Enterprise is also launching a new interactive game, Cyber Squad, designed by Romero Games.

The game is designed to teach children cybersecurity literacy via an interactive, narrative format that takes players through real-life scenarios and simulates the consequences of both risky and safe online behaviours.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s chief information security officer, Liz Joyce, spoke about how strongly she and her team feels about the need to attract more women to the cybersecurity sector.

“The cybersecurity workforce has historically a huge gender disparity, with women vastly underrepresented,” she said. “Our Galway office is not only one of HPE’s [Hewlett Packard Enterprise] cyber defence centres, it also has quite a significant number of talented female cybersecurity professionals passionate about this. They decided to found an internal employee resource group called Women in Cybersecurity dedicated to encouraging more women in the field and raising awareness about this growing sector in Ireland and internationally.”

When Joyce learned about a possible partnership with Girl Scouts, she tapped into the Women in Cybersecurity group to work on the projects. “From there, we decided to work with Galway-based Romero Games, given their immense credibility and influential games,” said Joyce.

As a leading female game developer and former Girl Scout, Brenda Romero was excited to work on the project and she told Siliconrepublic.com that it became a family affair.

“During development, we worked with my 17-year-old daughter Maezza, who won a writing award from NUIG, to write the narrative, making sure the situations, communication and issues facing girls felt authentic and realistic for young girls,” said Romero, who has previously spoken at Inspirefest. “For both Maezza and our team, having a chance to develop a game about important issues that young women face was a tremendous honour.”

How does Cyber Squad work?

The game is interactive, in a narrative, role-play format. Romero said the narrative involves a female main character controlled by the player. “Upon setup, players can choose what their avatar looks like and then enter the game, which involves several different storylines and scenarios taking place at school, home, online and in social contexts.” The storylines deal with phishing, cyberbullying, online safety and digital footprint.

The stories in the game involve several other characters and when asked for a narrative choice, the player selects their answer and the story responds with either positive or negative consequences. “The aim is to help them better understand via simulation how safe and risky online behaviours can impact themselves and their friends in both the digital world and physical world,” said Romero.

“There is also a trivia element of the game that allows them to further test their newfound cybersecurity knowledge with trivia questions. This element of the game allows them to compete with other players face to face at Girl Scout troop meetings.”

A screenshot of the Cyber Squad game. Four young, diverse female avatars standing in front of a stairs.

Image: Cyber Squad game

The importance of cybersecurity skills

Cyber Squad could not be timelier, with online safety becoming more important far earlier than in generations gone by. Children are gaining access earlier all the time and, as such, they are increasingly vulnerable to damaging online behaviours and privacy risks. This game teaches children about the dangers online and the importance of protecting yourself properly.

Romero said that, as a mother, she was acutely aware of the importance of educating girls about online safety. “It was important to me that we create a game that was uniquely targeted at girls and young women, and so in the early design phases we narrowed in on a narrative game which was entertaining, educational, mysterious and a bit dramatic,” she said.

“Young women enjoy narrative games in particular, and we felt that rather than just provide didactic content, a narrative game allows them to see how these situations develop and how these situations could be handled in a better way.”

In addition, the game also encourages girls to get to grips with cybersecurity skills in general, which can expose them to a career in cybersecurity down the line.

For Girl Scouts, this game and curriculum not only teach girls practical digital skills, they also tie into the organisation’s longer-term pledge to bring 2.5m girls into the STEM pipeline by 2025.

Bringing Cyber Squad further afield

Currently, Cyber Squad is available via a web interface, but will be launched across mobile and desktop platforms in the coming year. The game is also being launched to Girl Scouts as a printable board game, which aims to enable a more interactive style of play in-person.

While Girl Scouts is not based in Ireland, Joyce believes this project speaks to how passionate the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Women in Cybersecurity team is about encouraging more girls in technology all around the world. “We’re also in early conversations with other youth organisations in Ireland and hope to eventually bring this game and curriculum to the Irish market,” she said.

In terms of adapting the game for other areas, both Romero and Joyce are extremely interested in developing more. Romero said: “As someone who’s been in games for more than 30 years now, this is the first time I truly feel that all my proverbial roles came together – as a mom, a writer and a game developer.”

Joyce said she’s hoping the game can be adapted to educate kids about other STEM (and STEAM) areas. “While thus far we are focusing on this cybersecurity topic, some topics that come to mind are coding, engineering, as well as art.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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