Meet Amanda. She’s 16. She lives in Halifax, is good at math, hates spelling, and loves games. She is a child of Gamers – both her parents met playing online. She can talk level design, power ups, game narrative and consoles with the best of them.
I met Amanda at the CollideHalifax Conference. I have spoken at it since it started, and was there again to give a session. This year the conference sold out. This year they also had a bunch of students from a local high school attend. This year, they held a Women’s networking event which is how I met Amanda.
Amanda is not shy. She joined my table, and as I was showing some projects with Arduino, the discussion turned heavy. We started talking about the industry, about our struggles and successes, about being a woman in tech. I wanted to reach out and earmuff Amanda. I did not want her to hear this. I didn’t want to her to hear stories of sexual harassment or impending lawsuits. All I could think was “please let no one mention #gamergate”.
I did not want her to close a door that she had yet to open.
Amanda is not shy. She talked about how much she loved video games and you could tell by the way she spoke about it that it wasn’t a fleeting interest. She was a child of gaming. I asked her if she had ever made a game. She said no. I offered to teach her how to make a game.
She started to cry. She made me cry. I didn’t know why we were crying. Why were we crying? I had made a simple offer to show and share what I knew. It was up to her to take me up on it.
I would show Amanda how to do something. I’d explain it along the way. Then I’d make her do it. Then the next day I’d pretty much delete all our progress and make her do it again without help before I taught her the next step. I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, but she was willing and she was able to quickly recreate the previous lesson’s progress.
She had to learn a little C#. I had no idea how I was going to explain OOP principles to someone who had no programming experience. I wasn’t sure I even had to. But I explained things the best I could without overthinking it. Ok. So you have a cat. What do all cats typically have in common? Ok. So you have a siamese cat. What makes it different? What else could be different about cats? Weight? Color? Etc. Ok, so I was able to explain the idea of classes, and properties and methods in a few minutes. We’d write a line of code, talk about it, write another, rinse and repeat.
When I didn’t know something, I’d look it up. And I’d explain what I was trying to search for, what type of language or phrases I might need. The hardest part about learning something new typically is understanding the taxonomy.
We created scenes. We created buttons. We created a player that had multiple animations and an animation controller. We added sound. We made prefabs and we wrote some game logic. She asked questions. Gave creative input. Made suggestions on things to add or improve.
People started to drop by and check our progress. A few people mentioned that they wish they could have sat in. People were excited for her, they wanted to celebrate her success like it was their own. The executive director of the Halifax Pop Explosion James Boyle dropped by one of our coding sessions and gave her a hoodie. She ended up scoring an internship with a local company that did application development. She was winning.
She asked about doing a portfolio. I told her to just blog her game progress. Do it for all her games. Post pics, videos. Share code. Share what she learned. Just use something she was already familiar with – Tumblr.
In about 6 hours over three days, Amanda made a game. Actually, she probably made it two or three times. She was a sponge. She soaked up everything I could give her. She walked away with a list of things she would have to learn on her own to make her game better and the motivation to actually do it.
I spent a couple of hours over a couple of days to make an impact and help someone. Maybe I changed her life. What she didn’t know, was that she was changing mine. She was a constant, living reminder of why it was important for me to be present. For me to be public. For me to be accessible. She needed to be able to see someone doing something she wanted to do and believe it could be her. Everyone needs that.
As I watched Amanda hook up her animation controller states, I saw something different in her. I saw determination. Confidence. I saw someone that wasn’t going to let the heavy stuff weigh her down. I saw someone who would pave their own path.
As small of a contribution as it was, I was happy to stop talking about a problem and start doing something about it, in the best way I knew how.
Friends, if this is our future generation of gamers, of developers, we are in good hands.
Follow Amanda on Twitter. Maybe we together can encourage her to share her work.
PS > Video of her game Flappy Ninja
After posting this, not just one, but two people from Adobe reached out to say they’d like to give Amanda a subscription to Creative Cloud. Thank you Adobe, for being so generous.
— Mike Chambers (@mesh) October 25, 2014