This news story is a bit older, but it’s so rare when we hear about organizations actually encouraging people to play videogames. This is especially true for organizations that work with kids. With all of the attention target groups give to keeping games away from kids, I really wanted to write about a group that’s actually showing the good potential in games.
Over this past year, both the Boy & Girl Scouts have been working on programs to help teach kids game design. It was announced in March & April that both organizations were working to develop a merit badge program aimed at teaching kids game design &, more generally, getting them excited for science & math.
In a press release, the Boy Scouts of America announced:
Games are an important element in every culture around the globe. Simple games give structure to children’s playtime and help enforce basic social skills like courtesy, sharing, and taking turns, and more intricate games can help children hone their logic, strategy, and even mathematics skills. Through Game Design, its newest merit badge, the Boy Scouts of America is opening the door for Scouts to put their creativity to the test… To earn this merit badge, a Scout is required to analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry.
Simultaneous, or perhaps in reaction to, the Girl Scouts of Greater LA partnered with Women in Games International to develop a Game Development badge program that would be adopted by the Girl Scouts as a whole. In September, the Girl Scouts of the USA, in partnership with Dell, released the “Be A Video Game Developer” program. In their press release, CEO Anna Maria Chavez stated:
Today’s girls are digital natives, as comfortable in front of computer screens and smartphones as adults. Be the Video Game Developer lets girls delve deeper into the world of technology, learning vital new skills and discovering their own creativity in a manner both engaging and interactive. As we face a future of ever-expanding opportunity in science and technology, Girl Scouts and Dell are partnering to create a girl-led learning experience that will drive more girls into these groundbreaking new fields.
There are key differences in both organizations programs. The Boy Scouts’ Game Design badge focuses on more than just videogames, including board games & sports, & places an emphasis on understanding how these games relate to society. They’re also required to make a physical or digital prototype of their game. The Girl Scouts’ Game Development badge, on the other hand, aims more at getting girls interested in science, math & technology & encouraging them to explore careers in this area. In addition to the Be a Video Game Developer program, they’re also making use of the Gamestar Mechanic, a program that seems similar to RPG Maker, which lets kids learn about software while creating & sharing their own games.
I think it’s great that the Scouts are encouraging kids to learn programing & software through gaming. Unlike other organizations focused on kids, they don’t automatically condemn videogames as being “evil.” Sure, I don’t think kids should be playing Grand Theft Auto, but those sorts of games clearly aren’t intended for children. Videogames have a lot of potential for teaching. They let you explore new concepts & ideas, & experience things would couldn’t otherwise.
I’m particularly glad to see the Girl Scouts actively encouraging girls to get involved in fields where women are typically underrepresented. It seems to be part of their larger initiative, which they call STEM education (science, technology, engineering & math). These programs seek to counteract the asinine stereotype that women aren’t good in these areas, when in most cases it’s more a matter of girls being told that girls aren’t good at those types of things, not encouraged & not taught. By starting early (with both genders) these kids may discover a passion for these fields. And that’s what I think is the strongest aspect of videogames in this regard; they’re fun. Educators are always trying to make learning fun & it’s good to see more people turning to videogames to do it.
I checked out the Be A Video Game Developer site (which is open to anyone to explore). It’s not a bad little simulation. It’s less about the mechanics of making a game & more about choosing from predetermined assets, like a really simplified RPG Maker. But I think it’s good for a sort of introduction to game design.
Why didn’t we have stuff like this when I was a Girl Scout? It would’ve been so much more fun. All we ever did was sell cookies. I feel jipped.
Hopefully we’ll see more programs like this in the future, with people seeing the potential of games & not just the sensationalized dangers.