An adventure game where your character moves around by manipulating the attractive and repulsive forces of the atom. A 3D battle against pathogens inside the human body. An early learning game starring a shark that teaches first graders about inequalities. They could be the latest releases from a premiere educational game studio, but these and 14 other incredible games were all made by students between the ages of 10 and 18: the winners of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge Youth Prize.
On Monday, May 21, I had the pleasure of participating in the Challenge’s Celebration of Success where 28 youth game designers from around the country — out of a field of over 3,700 entries — were honored for their original game designs at an event held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC presented by Challenge Sponsor Microsoft.
The youth winners began their visit with a VIP tour of the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit where they got to see and play some of the most significant titles in the history of gaming. Then it was off to the auditorium where representatives from the game industry, government and the educational community — along with family and friends — recognized the designers for a job well done.
Challenge judge and game designer Sean Vesce of 20after1, who’s work includes titles like the Tomb Raider and Mech Warrior franchises, praised the designers’ work and talked about his own experience as a young game maker inspired by some of the great early Activision titles. Alex Games, Education Design Director at Microsoft also addressed the youth, telling them “You did something awesome! Making games, like anything good in life, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance and a lot of not giving up.” Dr. Games was followed by video congratulations to the winners from celebrity Challenge judge (and self-professed nerd) Zachary Levi of NBC’s Chuck.
Joining the sponsors and game industry professionals in praising the young designers were Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Jim McGovern as well as Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Following the ceremony, several of the winners of had the opportunity to demo their games for the guests in attendance.
You can meet the 2012 Youth Prize winners and see some of the amazing things they’re doing in this video. You can also check out the complete winners list here with footage of each of the winning games and even links to play a few online.
Here’s a quick follow-up to our most recent post about the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s new video series on teaching with games. The newest video features Gamestar Mechanic! In this installment, Steve Isaacs, a Technology Instructor at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, shows how he helps his students move through the design process to realize a game. The students focus on writing game design documents and playtesting their designs with partners. I love how Steve says that his goal is for his students to know more than he does by the end . . He wants to teach them how to learn. A noble goal, Steve!
This month the Joan Ganz Cooney Center started a video series on Youtube featuring case studies of teachers who teach with games. One of the featured teachers, Ginger of Quest2Learn in New York, talks about the stereotype that when kids play video games, they are passive learners, consumers of media. In Q2L, students game in a very interactive and kinesthetic way. This video shows footage of kids playing in SmaLLab, a digital space where they can physically move around digital projections as part of a room-wide digital game.
The shift from video games as being something that people play with headphones, staring at monitors, to interactive, tactile, social experiences is very exciting for education. Platforms like the Wii and the Kinect, products like Sifteo cubes, and spaces like SmaLLab allow students to exhibit a range of skills that combine digital navigation with physical cooperation and interaction. This allows for learners of many types to process and think critically about new information in a number of ways, be them kinesthetic, exploratory, social, individual, etc. In this Teaching with Games video, Ginger talks about her students with learning disabilities connecting to this blend of digital and physical play.
This playlist also features a video about a teacher using MinecraftEDU in his classroom. A great point in this one is that teaching with games is not the same practice as “free play”; kids need to be scaffolded and taught how to effectively learn from a game. Another feature focuses on a teacher who made “natural” switch from board games to digital games. She talks about how by observing gameplay, she can discern which students are critically thinking about the learning material and which still need help understanding the concepts.
Here’s another story about kids making games for other kids, but this time with a very specific goal – battling bullies. Students from Fresno and Clovis Unified high schools recently launched Bully Blaster in the iTunes app store. This article describes the gameplay:
“Using their fingertips, players battle bullying by fighting their way through waves of positive and negative words. By destroying the insults and collecting the compliments, gamers compete for their highest score.”
There is also a great video above the article that explains more about the game, the design process, and has quotes from the designers themselves.
For me, what really made this project stand out was the quote from high school student, Michelle Rodriquez, who said that the game allows the player to choose words that they have been called, and defeat them in the game. This mechanic of allowing players to choose their own bully terminology makes the game very personal. It also means that you are blasting the word, the idea and the insult, instead of the person who says the word. It will be interesting to see how this kind of gameplay affects kids, both the bullies and the bullied.
Here’s a short video showing some Bully Blaster gameplay:
If you are interested in kids making games about healthy relationships and social systems within schools, check out this post about our new project Real Robots of Robot High. This link gives you the background of the project and a chance to sign up for the beta!