Three engineering students hope so. They’ve developed a game that teaches about the disease and its treatments and will take it to the Imagine Cup US finals April 8–11 in Seattle, Wash. How well they do there depends partly on popular vote.

Vote for Team Mintrus — and vote often. That’s what they ask of the UofL and Louisville communities.

The Microsoft-sponsored Imagine Cup is about using technology to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems, according to the competition’s website. Categories come from the United Nations Millennium Goals.

One of those goal areas is AIDS/HIV.

Team Mintrus took the popular tower defense game format and turned it into an educational tool with their game called Pandemic.

Whether the team wins the competition depends not only on what judges think of Pandemic, but also on popular vote — “as it happens in American Idol, but here in an academic context,” said Rammohan Ragade, computer engineering/computer science professor and team adviser.

People’s choice voting allows individuals to place one vote each day through April 9 for their favorite team. They can vote for Team Mintrus online or by texting “mintrus” to the telephone number 23000.

“We got the idea for the tower defense game because all of us enjoy the genre,” said Quinn Johns, a senior from Prospect, Ky. “The reason we targeted AIDS specifically is that after doing some research on the most pressing problems we came upon an article talking about how some people are naturally immune to the disease and how doctors are trying to use that to cure the disease. We thought this new revolution was innovative, so we decided to do our part, as well.”

In tower defense games, players erect towers from which they defend against attackers. Pandemic takes that concept to the human blood stream. Players are submersed in the human body where they assume the role of the immune system in a battle against AIDS.

“As the player submerses themselves into the game, the person encounters six individuals that contracted HIV/AIDs in different ways,” Johns explained. “The individual playing the game learns how the person got the disease, statistics about the disease and how big of a problem it is, then delves into the actual tower defense game, which resembles the bloodstream. Upon victory of the game, a screen states the treatment the individual got, some of the treatment options available, etc.”

Teams that win the national competition will go to the international level in July.

“So far no US team has won,” Ragade said. “Last year the Brazilian team had a super performance. We hope this year our UofL team wins as everyone knows the scourge of AIDS/HIV in many Third World countries.”

While Team Mintrus has its sights set on victory and moving to the international level, “regardless of our placement, we want to polish the game to the point we can put it on the Windows marketplace and sell it. We’re currently looking at giving a large percentage of our proceeds to an AIDS-based charity to do our part in finding a cure,” Johns said.

Such competition is a good career steppingstone, Ragade said. Participants often are highly recruited by competition sponsors and corporate recruiters.

Besides Johns, UofL team members are Matthew Dahl, a junior from Louisville, and Richard Paris, a senior from Louisville. Dar-Jen Chang, CE/CS associate professor, is the team’s co-adviser. Kazuna Nakama, a student at Tribeca Media Arts Academy in Chicago, is the game’s artist and sound engineer.