Ever since we tested the earliest versions of Gamestar Mechanic, we’ve noticed that young designers create better games when they’ve got something to focus on. Turn a student loose in the Gamestar Workshop with a full set of sprites and they’re likely to experiment and explore, but they’re also likely to hit a block where they aren’t sure what to do next. As writing teachers have known forever, it is good to give students a prompt.
Right now, there are several national game design challenges open for entry, and they can be a great way to focus your students’ efforts – and there are some great prizes available for you as well as the student. The National STEM Video Game Challenge opened on November 16, 2011 and runs through March 12, 2012 . Although the STEM Challenge sounds like you have to make learning games, the theory behind the challenge is that making any game demands STEM-related skills. Your students should make a fun game, first and foremost. The Challenge Youth Prize is open to students in grades 5 – 12, but there is an adult prize too if you want to try your hand! For more information, check out http://www.stemchallenge.org.
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have been around for 88 years, giving talented young artists and writers recognition for their work and giving them an annual event on which to focus their work. This will be the third year that the Awards have recognized Game Design as a category for art submissions, and it’s been great seeing games get some respect as an expressive medium. The Awards are a big deal — the winners get to walk across the stage at Carnegie Hall to accept their awards, and many past honorees still prize their award pins. The Art and Writing Awards deadlines vary by category and region, but video game submissions must be submitted or postmarked by January 9th. See http://www.artandwriting.org/
Both the Challenge and the Awards accept entries made in Gamestar Mechanic as well as other tools. In fact, students can even submit game designs on paper, as long as they’re clear about how their designs would play and what the game would be like. Whether they’re working on paper, in Gamestar, or coding in Actionscript by hand, we think design challenges are a great goal for students to work toward.