When I was in high school, we frequently lamented that there were no good places to hang out outside of school. It wasn't too big a deal for me since I was always in school, participating in just shy of 500 after-school activities (or so it seemed.) I've often thought about how tough this lack of space is for teens and tweens in NYC, and about the unfortunate implications of not providing positive, production-oriented "open space" for kids to hang out, mess around, and geek out as Mimi Ito would advise.
Luckily, there are some amazing exceptions to this, such as YouMedia@ DreamYard in the Bronx and Brooklyn College Arts Lab, an incredible space created by the Brooklyn College Community Partnership (BCCP)
On December 6, BCAL hosted a Hive-sponsored Game Jam, described winningly by Game Jam Facilitator Kevin Miklasz, formerly of Iridescent and now of BrainPop, in this blog. I participated in one in late October that was so great I brought a bunch of students from the BedStuy SONYC program to this one, given its focus on middle school youth and it was great fun. What are the keys to success? For the technical aspects, check out this Game Jam Guide. But in terms of the informal aspects, I'd say cool space (BCAL has that taken care of), youth of different ages and stages, hands on activities that kids can choose from, and pizza. Lots and lots of pizza. Check out the space below:
I sure would have wanted to hang out here!
The afternoon started with a fun primer on the Five Elements of Game Design: Mechanics (things like running, shooting, kicking); Goals (you know, how you win); Rules (things you can't do or have to do); Components; and Space. To make these real, as a warm up, kids were asked to remix (with older kids, we say "hack") Rock Paper Scissors, choosing to change one of the elements, like changing components (Poke, Punch, Pinch--shoot!) or form (shake hands, change shape of hand), changing rules (2 out of 3 win)
Next, the participating groups each gave a quick overview of their activity so that kids could choose what excited them most. MOUSE introduced its Serious Games, using Scratch, HTML and/or Arduino to find and scan images into Ghost Blast.
Global Kids invited students to illustrate their own story and make it into a game through GameStar Mechanic, starting by having them create high tech MadLibs with a social conscience: I am a _____ (Mermaid, Race Car Driver, Chimney Sweep.) I fight for/against _____ (clean streets, domestic violence, etc) in _____ by ______)
Eye Beam encouraged participants to come create their own games, starting with a Battle of the Ninjas warmup game that had my girlz from BedStuy grinning wider than I'd ever seen.
The Museum of the Moving Image enticed youth to come "mod" a game to create stop motion breakout, coming up with characters/shapes, creating a board of "bricks" made of PostIts, and figuring out how characters will navigate the board.
Coder Dojo captivated (mostly boys) in the crowd with the opportunity to draw and create their own SuperMario Brothers, drawing on a Creator Elements How To providing 14 elements that can be used to build levels, drawn on graph paper, and then scanned with an iPad so that kids could subsequently play a game using their own backdrop and, once they play it, could then figure out elements they might want to incorporate (like having a door to go through)
There was a wonderful buzz throughout the day, enhanced by some of the other activities happening concurrently in the expansive BCAL space. I loved the music being generated by older students in a room at the side (which I think made our kids feel a bit cooler by association.) This is what a game jam sounds like:
While the whole afternoon was highly engaging and enjoyable, my favorite part of the day was the Final Showcase/Gallery Walk during which kids shared what they'd created and produced with kids who had been at other stations.
While "hands up" has taken on unsettling reverberations in the wake of Eric Garner, it's heartening to see adolescents' hands up with such enthusiasm to participate--this was in response to being asked who wanted to showcase their game to their peers.
While the Final Showcase was a bit too short and constrained by the number of participants, it was wonderful to see early adolescents oozing with enthusiasm late on a Saturday afternoon.