Between NYC and Boston, over the period of two Saturdays, we had 8 instructors teach 119 children between the ages of 5-15 how to make games in Scratch, Unity3d, Construct2 and GameMaker with the help of over 80 volunteers- largely volunteers from the indie games community. We called the event Young Game Makers. No one got paid. There was no budget. I acquired space through Microsoft, and in Boston, Blue Metal Inc graciously provided lunch. I brought fruit for snacks in Boston and my amazing colleague Maria Naggaga kindly did the same in NYC.
In two Saturdays, with the help of 80+ volunteers, we watched over 45 kids demoing their game at the end of the day. As a result, we will have donated nearly $2400.00 from both the ticket sales and Microsoft’s Give Program to be split between two non-profits: Girls Who Code and Mouse.org.
We had games of all types. Endless runners. Asteroid clones. Narrative stories. Games that had cupcakes, babies falling from the sky, ‘Flappy Bird Clone #567 999″, cones catching ice cream, spaceships and Lego. We saw some kids who drew their own graphics and scanned them in.
There was some pixel art and some kids who showed off their sprite sheets. Some recorded their own sound effects. Some took what they learned in class and totally ignored it, making something entirely different and applying the fundamentals.
In just one day, we saw our future – future co-workers, inventors, mentors, bosses. In just one day, we might have helped shape our future so that it can be better than our present.
Let’s be frank. I do not know what I am doing. When I thought about putting together something just for kids, I did it as a result of a bad day at work, of a bad time in the industry when I couldn’t escape my twitter feed full of sexism in tech discussions. I needed to feel good about what I was doing. I needed to find a way to contribute to the conversation, but had no idea what my voice sounded like anymore. I had written us all off. I figured as an adult community we were screwed , where we spent more time patching walls than we did tearing them down. I figured maybe working with kids, I had a chance to create some real change.
I had and still have no idea what I am doing. But I do know what I want from this.
I want for kids to have a positive experience learning how to code. Games are a great way to do this, because you are teaching them something already in their knowledge domain. They are intimately familiar with games – from level design, to audio soundscapes and signifiers, to social etiquette and commentary. They are insanely motivated to learn, because learning provides them with the freedom to enable and empower themselves to create their own ideas manifested in the form of games. Many love Minecraft. Many are wondering why we aren’t coding for Minecraft. Many complained we weren’t doing Minecraft. Let’s just say, there was a lot of talk about Minecraft.
At the end of the day, I ask attendees who had fun. I ask them who made something or learned something. I ask them who will go home and continue to make games. I ask them who would come again. Almost everyone puts their hands up. This means we are creating kids who will not be afraid of math. Or science. Kids who will be self-taught and self-directed learners. Kids who will be able to articulate and communicate better. Kids who might be developers or engineers. Kids who bring with them a whole new legacy, expectation and understanding of social behaviors and can change what many consider a toxic environment in its current state. Kids who know how to play nicely with others and can grow up into adults that understand what it means to respect another.
I want both genders to be represented equally – in attendance, in instructors, volunteers, and mentors. I don’t want to separate gender. For me, it is as important for a young girl to learn from a woman, as it for a young boy. I specifically try a mix of female and male instructors just for this reason. Many people talk about safe environments, and I want a safe environment to contain both genders. I can’t seem to the find the words or the phrases to properly articulate what I mean, but I guess what I am trying to say is that if we don’t focus on inclusion over exclusion at any early age, we might just be encouraging sexist behaviors in the future.
I want to teach kids, and parents, how rewarding being a maker can be. During demo’s, many of the kids would turn into these little hams, full of confidence and pride, open to sharing with everyone their accomplishment and open to accepting praise. Even the shy ones were getting up and showing off what they had learned. The audience would cheer, laugh, holler, clap, praise. When you watch these demos you to start to wonder if this little microcosm could actually become a reality. How do we protect it? How do we keep it just the way it is?
I had former co-workers text and email me to tell me that what I was doing was important, needed, that it was inspirational. Okay, cut to me denying I have tear ducts.
I had kids coming up to me asking me what my job was. How I got into programming. What things I liked to make. Would I teach Minecraft? When would I be doing this again? Boys asked me. Girls asked me. Parents asked me. This. So much of this. We need so much more of this.
Why am I telling you all so much about me, when this isn’t and should not be about me? Maybe it’s to convince you , that 8 hours to give up on some future Saturday, will be worth it. Maybe I am trying to convince all of you that you don’t understand what you have to offer, until you actually share it.
Maybe one day, one of these kids will work for Microsoft. Maybe they will remember the day they spent in the offices making a game. Maybe I, along with the many others that helped out, helped inspire just one more person to consider our field as a future career possibility. Thank you to all the volunteers & parents who helped make this happen. Thank you to the instructors ( Jono Forbes, Caleb Garner, Maria Naggaga, Sep DiMeglio , Olga Andreyev, Dennis Illagan , and Waseque Qazi) who so graciously stepped up to the plate and took this challenge on. Thank you to Rohit Crasta and Dan Butchko from the Games Forum, who helped me organize and kept things running smoothly.
I’ve already said I have zero idea what I am doing.
But I do know that Margot made her first game where her bullets were cupcakes. I know that Max drew his own spaceship and asteroids and scanned them in. I know that Chase will definitely be my boss one day as he had a full business plan for the release of his lego inspired game. I know Cassandra caught dropping fruit with a sewer lid and Emma, barely a kid herself, caught exploding babies. I know that Arlo is a mad talented graphic designer. I know that Nick and Zach could have taught the Unity class themselves.
I know that we taught 119 kids how to make games, encouraged them to embrace programming, and that many of them will.
Now, to plan the next event and location.
You can see what people were tweeting using the #younggamemaker tag. And just a few pictures – don’t worry, I asked the parents for consent before using and am only posting a few to respect the privacy of the group.