Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Parenting and Gaming: Entertainment and Technology Badge

Entertainment Technology Badge!
For the first time, Frogdice hosted an Entertainment Technology Badge event for Junior Girl Scout Troop 847 this year. Our studio strongly believes in encouraging women and girl to pick up gaming as a learning tool and a means to empowerment, and where better to start than with our own daughters? Here's a guide to what we did and the amazing results that followed.

A Quick Discussion on Gaming

We started with a quick discussion on what games the girls played, who they played with, and how they picked the games they played. Of course, we used our own game, Tower of Elements, as one of the games we demonstrated. All the girls talked about what games they played, who they played with, and also, what makes them like or dislike playing.

I'd like to report that every single one of our girls gamed quite a bit, but very few had been exposed to playing games on anything other than phones or mini-tablets. We had four PC gamers out of the eleven who attended the meeting and a handful of console gamers. Temple Run was the game that most everyone shared in common.

Learning about Stop Motion Animation

Part of obtaining the Entertainment Technology badge consisted of the girls learning about animation and how we created animation. We showed them sprite sheets and examples of 3D animation done in Maya. Now all Girl Scout badges insist on hands-on experience, so we did a segment on stop-motion animation. We used the following supplies:
  1. A camera
  2. Paper
  3. Markers
  4. Lego people and props
  5. A computer
First, the girls wrote a script knowing that they had only 16 frames in which to tell their story. Then, with the help of a leader, they positioned the lego people in the scene and snapped a picture of the scene. Next, the girls would re-position the characters in the next step of the animation, and we would take another picture. When we were done, we loaded all the pictures onto a computer and simply used Window Photo Viewer to quickly scroll through the pictures. Thus, we made a very simple, but effective, animated short.

Game Design and Development as a Team

As another part of earning our badge, we split the girls up into development teams. Everyone role-played their part in creating a game and learned how programming, art, music, design, and writing all went together. We tried different tactics with creating as a team with one person in charge, and then we tried a democratic method of design. We also experimented with salaries, pitching to VCs and meeting deadlines. The girls also drew concept art, hummed various tunes they created for sound tracks, and used other video games for inspiration for their creation.

We created achievements, leveling systems, reward systems, and bosses. More importantly, the girls learned that not every idea works and not every idea is the best one. They learned about discarding ideas, implementing each others' ideas, and adjusting their ideas to fit their overall game design.

Girls Aren't that Different

Some readers may remember me mentioning my "World of Dolls" incident where it became obvious that some designers believe girls will only play games with dolls, rainbows and horses. Those beliefs contain a hint of truth but only on the surface. One of the games that the girls designed, Cloud Castle, can only be described as an RPG. Cloud Castle starts each character with a small cottage that they build into a great castle in the cloud by defending Cloudland against horrible monsters. Characters join up in the Cloud Academy to learn new skills and form groups to fight the really hard bosses or to build up their castles. They could also use the items they earned to make clothing and costumes, and the girls even built in a micro-transaction system to sell players color. They got down to the point of arguing whether or not they wanted people to buy extras or if they just wanted to sell the game right from the beginning for $10. (These are issues that current developers are discussing and debating.)

Ultimately, the girls wanted to create a deep game where they could progress and earn things for their avatars. That's really not so different from what the boys I've taught in various programs wanted. It just goes to show how gamers, male or female, simply want good games.


Diane Carlisle said...

I'm so happy that you are developing these skills in young girls. Working on group strengths and team building is so important in every industry, but in male dominated industries like computer sciences, it can be intimidating learning as you go, especially late starters like me.

I came up during a time when most women wouldn't want to code and debug, and back then there wasn't much graphical work to be done as programmers, we did green screen business apps and people wondered why we loved our jobs, the two of us. We stayed in the dark with our code and pumped out the apps and nobody bothered us.

Today, it's so different. I had to struggle to integrate with newer technologies and concepts. What do you mean share my code?! Design review? What?! lol

When young girls are comfortable from the beginning with sharing and understanding how this builds trust and teamwork, they won't struggle when the time comes. I'm much happier now. But, had I had the training and skillset from a younger age, I would have developed much quicker. :D

Kudos for empowering these girls at a young age. They will be stronger and more competitive having had these building blocks.

Pang said...

Thanks for sharing your own experiences, Diane. The gaming industry is currently experiencing growing pains due to the influx of women into a predominantly male business. It's been really interesting to see it all unfold.