USCB prof creates 'boo hag' video game in honor of Lowcountry

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USCB Prof. Brian Canada, creator of the video game Bugs and Boo Hags, in his office at Beaufort Digital Corridor, chats on the phone while also playing a level of his game. COURTESY BRIAN CANADA

After Brian Canada was offered a job at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, he began researching the Lowcountry.

In his online searching, Canada came across a satirical map of the United States that depicted what residents fear the most in each state. He was intrigued to learn that South Carolinians were most afraid of something called a "boo hag."

"I thought, 'Well, that's different and interesting,'" the Beaufort man said. "And it just took me down this sort of rabbit hole, where I just wanted to learn more and more about the folklore and supernatural aspects of South Carolina."

After finishing graduate school at Penn State University in 2011, Canada headed to the Lowcountry to teach computer programming and database classes at the Bluffton campus of USCB. He recently took over as the chair of the school's Department of Computer Science.

Still intrigued by the Gullah legend and inspired by a documentary he had watched about independent game developers, the professor decided to incorporate the story into his own video game.

Canada has spent the past four years independently developing a game called Bugs 'N Boo Hags.

He wanted to create a game similar to the ones he played as a kid in the 1980s, with pixel art influenced by Burger Time and Donkey Kong.

In Bugs 'N Boo Hags, the player assumes the role of Jack McCleary, a fictional character based on the life of former Beaufort County Sheriff James Edwin McTeer. McTeer was famous for using a form of magic called "hoodoo" to fight crime in the mid-20th century.

According to Gullah tradition, boo hags are evil spirits that steal energy from sleeping humans. In the game, the player's goal is to protect the homes of citizens from boo hags.

The player also must fight off creepy Lowcountry critters, including Palmetto bugs, mosquitoes and fire ants, along the way.

In a nod to Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, a character named Mayor Billy recruits and trains the sheriff on how to defeat the boo hags in the game.

Bugs 'N Boo Hags has so far been a success, winning, among other accolades, the People's Choice Award at Geekend 2018 Indie Game Arcade.

Canada is hoping to raise enough money through his Kickstarter page to fund the balance of the launch in September. Just prior to publication of this article, he had raised $4,616 of his $7,100 goal.

"Part of the reason I want to finish the game is I want to show that it's possible to become a game developer in South Carolina and actually get a game out there that can get national attention," Canada said.

The Kickstarter project will end July 11. Support the project by visiting kickstarter.com/projects/briancanada/bugs-n-boo-hags-a-game-based-on-south-carolina-folklore.

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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