Designing a Game to Promote Equity in Cybersecurity


  • Anthony Pellicone Post-doc
  • Diane Ketelhut
  • Ekta Shokeen
  • David Weintrop
  • Michel Cukier
  • Jandelyn Plane



game-based learning, cybersecurity, game design, self efficacy, equity


Cybersecurity faces a persistent problem with attracting and retaining diverse workers. Most exposure to cybersecurity as a discipline tends to come through formal experiences in higher education, often requiring extensive prior experience with computer science content. Therefore, informal learning environments that can serve to both introduce youth to concepts found within cybersecurity, as well as aiding them in building identities as the type of person who can ‘do’ cybersecurity, may be able to advance the goal of diversifying the field. Game-based learning is an effective approach for attracting new learners to specific domains of knowledge in informal contexts. Players who might not otherwise think of themselves as being capable participants within a field can use the structures and supports commonly found in well-designed digital games to build a personal identity as a novice practitioner of that domain. Previous work has found that while cybersecurity is represented in some commercial games, the depiction tends to be either superficial, or when there is a deeper engagement with content, tends to represent a stereotypical personage of a cybersecurity professional. In this paper, we present a digital game, called HEX of The Turtle Islands (HEX), designed to introduce players from historically underrepresented populations to the domain of cybersecurity. HEX leverages several gameplay elements to immerse players in a learning experience centered on cybersecurity: rich, multi-layered narratives; building player self-efficacy and identity within the domain of cybersecurity through challenges rooted in concepts that are authentic to the field; and making the game broadly accessible in terms of technology and design. In introducing HEX, we discuss how the design of the game can broaden participation in cybersecurity and conveys authentic cybersecurity concepts to players. Drawing from 2 years of playtesting data with a diverse group of youth play testers, we discuss both challenges and opportunities for introducing underrepresented youth to cybersecurity through play.