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GCC Seeking Chicago-Area High School Students for Youth Fellowship!

Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago (GCC) Design Lab at the University of Chicago is a space for exploring games and important questions about health and communities. GCC designs games and other technology-based projects with and for youth. 

We are reaching out to Chicago area high school students to find Design Lab Youth Fellows. Youth Fellows will be part of a design team, along with Chicago area undergraduate and graduate students, University of Chicago staff and professors who will collaborate to design projects using stories, art, games and technology. 

We are looking for youth who work well in teams and are interested in art, design, research, public health, technology, games and more! 

Youth fellows will be expected to commit an average of 4 hours per week, with an option for summer employment, and will receive a stipend for their participation. Each fellow is asked to make a commitment to the Lab starting October 13th. The fellowship will end June 13th.

If you are interested in becoming a GCC Design Lab Youth Fellow, please fill out the application by October 3rd. Late applications will not be considered. 

Questions? Contact Lab Director Ashlyn Sparrow at asparrow@bsd.uchicago.edu.

On a 5-Week Game-Based Learning STEM Program and Its Aftermath (Melissa Gilliam and Patrick Jagoda)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game and game-based learning program S.E.E.D. concludes with lab co-founders Dr. Patrick Jagoda and Dr. Melissa Gilliam. image

The night before the final day of our game-based learning program, we found ourselves procuring a bag of pregnancy tests for Team Yucca. Other youth designers had just put the finishing touches on original games that require objects such as condoms, timers, water balloons, baby bottles, wanted posters, QR codes, and board game pieces.

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We wonder what this afternoon will hold. Beginning at 1pm, parents and the University of Chicago community will come visit the final Project S.E.E.D. Maker Faire. Over the past two weeks, youth participants have turned from game players to game designers. They have participated in skills workshops on game design and research for serious games. They have play-tested and iterated their learning games. They have practiced their elevator pitches and prepared their professional outfits for the final presentation of their games. And now we will have a chance to observe, play, and celebrate their games. The fair will allow these youth to bring all of their skills to bear: research, game design, public speaking, and social activism.

imageThe Maker Faire includes both board games and transmedia games (essentially short alternate reality game experiences) about teen pregnancy, gender and racial bias in the workplace, unemployment, and water depletion — to name a few. For us, it is a special moment because we seek to create games and programs that serve both as occasions for research and as social interventions. Moreover, our work sits at the intersection of the humanities, arts, social sciences, and medicine. The lab works hard to collaborate and conduct research across these disciplines. Watching youth explore these intersections, embrace them, and create new games based on what they have learned is tremendously rewarding.

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Once today’s gameplay and celebration dies down, we will wish these young people goodbye for a few months. They will all learn that they can build on the skills that they learned this summer. We will also direct them toward digital badges, which reveal learning opportunities across Chicago associated with the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL). They will have further chances to collaborate with our team as play testers or lab members. And some will be armed with newly honed skills in identifying and adopting mentors who can help them make their way through a variety of STEM and other academic fields.

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In the coming weeks, our team will also sit down to try to understand the summer experience by reviewing focus group sessions, interviews, surveys, and game artifacts. We will consider whether our earlier hypotheses held and begin to generate new ones. Soon, we will contact the youth again. We are curious about their personal health behaviors, whether they became involved in any of the issues that they debated so passionately, whether they identified mentors, whether they joined new academic programs, whether they stayed involved in our lab, whether their grades are better this year compared to last, and whether they will they pursue a career in health or science. In short, what effect did the alternate reality game and game-based learning program have on them? How do young people trained in mentoring skills act compared to those who were not trained? We will ask these questions over the next year, so stay tuned for some answers.

The coming academic year will be a busy one for our lab. As students return to campus in late September, a new group of lab fellows (high school, undergraduate, and graduate students) will join us to work on a series of new projects that include board games, videogames, mobile apps, and digital storytelling projects.

This summer has been a time of intense learning for the youth and for us. It has left us with myriad research directions and design ideas. Thank you for following the S.E.E.D. program over the last five weeks.

On The Source vs. Project S.E.E.D. (Angela Heimburger)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game and summer program, S.E.E.D., continues with Angela Heimburger, Executive Director of Ci3. Her role in S.E.E.D. has been logistical coordination of the spaces, lunches and transportation as well as occasional “glue maker” for any last minute requests or challenges. Her only regret this summer is not having spent more time directly with the youth participants. image

What a difference a year can make!  Those of you who have been following us for a while know that last year was our inaugural experience running a large-scale alternate reality game (ARG) with high school students focused on STEM learning. The Source was a fun, productive, exhausting, and wonderful learning experience that included 140 students over five weeks. More importantly, direct feedback from participants and evaluation of the results taught us a lot about how we could improve the experience this year for participating youth, for our own research and evaluation, and for the interactive design.

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There were many successful similarities between the two projects, including: fabulous youth participants and their parents and guardians; recruitment help with Gear Up, the Hive Learning Network Chicago, U of C Civic Engagement colleagues from the Neighborhood Schools Program and Office of Special Programs; collaboration from many partners inside and outside of the University; talent, inquisitiveness, and fun; faith; suspended disbelief or belief in other opportunities; hands-on learning and making; and as Seed Lynn artfully stated in his blog post, “gaming for alternate possibilities in the real world.”

image So, what was different this year?

Size: Although we had intended to make the program larger (up to 220 students) logistical complexities forced us to downsize on short notice. We’re glad we did. S.E.E.D. had half of the number of students this year. Seventy high school age students came from the south and west side of Chicago primarily. Smaller group sizes meant better ratios for interactions with adults, more individualized attention from mentors (two mentors per group of 8 or 9 students), and more effective crowd control. Scaling a project to size doesn’t always mean making it bigger in any one venue. As we think about how to coordinate a future ARG in multiple cities, this will be an important lesson to keep in mind.

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Venue: Space is always a premium on campus, but this year was even more challenging.  More summer class offerings, more summer programs external to the University, and more construction and/or slated renovation were scheduled for summer 2014. Fortunately, staff and faculty around campus conspired to make everything work in our favor.

We had an amazing launch in the Performance Hall of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Nicole Foti has been an invaluable partner throughout.  Thanks to Blair Archambeau in the Provost’s Office, and Dan Larson in Facilities we were able to secure space for the first three weeks of the game in the New Graduate Residence Hall— perfect modular office space for the stylized bureaucratic narrative of Project S.E.E.D.

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For the second two weeks, we held the game design workshops and sessions in the classrooms and spacious lobby of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Social Service Administration building. Thanks to Dr. Alida Bouris for facilitating the connections and to Carmella Snook, Events Coordinator, and her team at SSA for setting up and making sure everything was in working order.

imageIn addition, Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (GCC Lab) has a new, beautifully renovated space in the basement of the Charles Stewart Mott Building thanks to the generous support from the Provost’s Office. A special thanks to Blair Archambeau from the bottom of our collective heart! Completed in mid-June thanks to the fastidious project management of Joyce Griffin, that eventual office space had its first life as the set for S.E.E.D.’s laboratory.

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Food: The generous lunch donations for our students and mentors was a huge help this year. BIG THANKS are due to Aramark Higher Education, especially Gary Arthur, Lizzette Marrero, and Casey Enarson for providing healthy bag lunches every day for five weeks for over 100 hungry minds and mouths. Aramark Higher Education was very accommodating of our requests, adjusting quantities as needed and adding extras like cookies (always a hit), chocolate milk, and varied chips. Thank you, neighbors! On those rare occasions when a pizza party was in order, there is no better ally than Yesenia at Papa John’s Pizza in Hyde Park. Muchas gracias.

Transportation:  Last year we were very fortunate to have CTA student passes donated to us by the One Chicago Fund. This year, due to the change to the Ventra system managed by Cubic, that was no longer possible. The lack of reduced student fares for those youth in summer programs has been the subject of much news in Chicago, but we are grateful to have had the support of Rick Simons, Deborah Miloslavich, and Mike Thiry at the Chicago Transit Authority to work out a solution for our youth. Many of them could not have participated without access to public transportation, as is true for so many of Chicago’s most vulnerable youth.

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Live actors: Last year, staff, faculty, and talented actors contributed hours of their time to write, record, and broadcast regular “webisodes” to The Source participants with the unifying narrative arc and clues for each day’s challenges. Because they required advanced preparation and filming, it was difficult to respond right away to unexpected turns of events. This year’s solution was nimbler. Narrative architects Patrick Jagoda and Stephen Heathcock (a/k/a Seed Lynn) constructed the basic sci-fi futuristic story line with the help of other GCC Lab staff and Fellows. Seed then coached three student actors—the inestimable Nailah Harris, Nosa Bohdi, and Bill Hutchinson — in improvisation skills and instilled faith so that they could blend more smoothly within the plot and ARG. Having the actors present and interacting with students on a regular basis made the story more tangible, provided opportunities for immediate responses, and allowed for seamless navigation with any plot hiccups or pointed, potentially derailing questions from the youth. The blog posts by Bill Hutchinson (a/k/a Xander) and Keith Wilson speak to this idea of invisible theater. image

Trained mentors: The importance of mentors emerged last year during The Source as one of the most cited benefits youth derived from their summer participation. This year, Project S.E.E.D. organizers had more time to draft careful job descriptions, solicit more competition and carefully select the best-suited college age mentors for this experience. A week-long orientation prior to the start, more guidance on what to expect and how to trouble shoot, more involvement in the program in general, and fewer youth to supervise contributed to the success of the mentors’ role this year. Special recognition is due to Adan Mesa and Anna Cohn who returned this year after having mentored during The Source. In addition, the incredibly smooth organization, passionate dedication and wisdom of Lead Mentors Rodney Allen and Megan Macklin provided the necessary support and trouble-shooting expertise for mentors when challenges arose. As outlined in Dr. Melissa Gilliam’s previous post, youth-initiated mentoring was a new concept to us this year and is being tested as part of the intervention this year thanks to expertise from Drs. Jean Rhodes and Sarah Schwartz at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

imageSeasoned GCC Design Lab Fellows: None of this would have been possible without the GCC Lab Fellows and their indefatigable stamina, inexhaustible brainpower, unbounded creativity, wickedly good sense of humor, and reckless pursuit of the perfect experience design. Shouts out to veteran Fellows Peter McDonald, Chris Russell, Megan Macklin, Leslie Gailloud, Phil Ehrenberg (now staff member), Bea Malsky, Keith Wilson and Nate Crumpley (former mentor during The Source). Not only are they colleagues, conspirators and model collaborators, they are friends and it shows.

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Mobile technology: This year gave rise to our first locative iPad scavenger hunt, during which students used technology to explore the University of Chicago campus. James Taylor, GCC senior game designer and mobile unit lead, conceived, designed and ran this successful and groundbreaking activity, D.O.T.S. Congratulations to Jim on one of the shortest development cycles (from conception to implementation) to date!

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Summer Link intern: Special recognition is due to Julius Stein, a rising junior at the University of Chicago Laboratory School and an integral member of S.E.E.D.’s implementation. In his own post, he revealed that this summer internship was not at all as he expected it would be, but he could not have enjoyed it more. Julius surpassed our expectations of what a summer intern could do, and we could not have enjoyed or appreciated his sunny, considerate presence more. Since he spends most of his school days right across the Midway from the GCC Lab, we hope to continue this link for at least a couple more years to come.

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Project design, planning, and management: If Patrick Jagoda and Melissa Gilliam are the parents of the GCC Lab, Ashlyn Sparrow is the skilled midwife of S.E.E.D. The brilliance, foresight and warmth of the faculty progenitors are obvious to all and evidenced by some of the previous posts here. But Ashlyn’s amazing energy, unfailing optimism, wonderful people skills, back-up plans for back-up plans, design genius and creative direction brought this project to life. With a full year’s gestation, Project S.E.E.D. was delivered into this world—and an alternate one—as a healthy, happy, intensely desired offspring with a very bright future. Hats off to Ashlyn Sparrow!

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Widespread documentation and increased social media presence: Kudos are due to Ci3’s Communications Manager, Lauren Whalen, for managing full-time videographers, staff photographers (Seed, Phil, and Amanda Dittami), external photographers (Lauren Beck and Nabiha Khan), blog postings, and interviews with media representatives. Her steadfast work in building our listserv and social media presence via Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr – and teaching staff and colleagues how to live tweet – has more people following us than ever before.

imageEmbedded researchers:  A couple members of our research staff only had a taste of The Source last year, and some are new to the ARG and workshop experience. Drs. Brandon Hill and Camille Fabiyi designed research protocols, adapted cognitive tests for students, and conducted focus groups during the program, and will continue to administer some follow-up tests as time and money allows. Research Specialists Phoebe Lyman and Catherine Hagbom observed and helped collect data during the five weeks of this program, disguised as “Temporal Archivists” during the game portion and unveiled as researchers during the final weeks. This sort of experimental study and design requires a lot of flexibility and timely adjustments in addition to rigorous methodology. We are lucky to have such a crack research team.

image Greater symbiosis between plot and STEM challenges: Because we had been through a version of this program last year, we had more time, direct feedback, and experience to be able to connect the narrative arc directly to the puzzles and challenges that youth were asked to solve about resource depletion and other threats to civilization and Planet Earth. This is a direct result of listening deeply to what youth said during informal conversations and in focus group evaluations of The Source, refining our development processes within the GCC Lab, harnessing the collective expertise of many of the staff game designers and Fellows, and consulting widely with colleagues and outside experts, including university faculty.

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Dedicated workshops for skills building and digital badging: Last year more students wanted direct instruction and hands-on making in game design as part of the summer program. This year they’re getting it in spades, outlined in yesterday’s blog post by Patrick Jagoda and others.  Youth will also have the opportunity to earn one or more of 11 digital badges for their efforts: Expressionist; Game Changers; Story Forgers; Transmedialites; Ludo-Mechanics; Prototyper; Quality Assurance; Mobilizer; Team-Builder; Networker; and Connector.

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TL;DR: The differences are many and good, but the principal conclusion is that all of this time, money, logistic, creative and educational effort is worth it.  The blog posts, video footage and photos belie some of the magic in the making, but the voices of the youth, their parents, and the mentors underscore the benefits of these investments most clearly. Be the change you wish to see in the world, and change the world you wish to see. Thank you to all of you who made this possible. We look forward to watching S.E.E.D. morph and take root in future iterations.

On Game Design Skills Tracks (Patrick Jagoda and Design Workshop Leaders)

For two weeks, the high school youth in the Project S.E.E.D. program have been working on board games and transmedia games of their own design. These games concern issues such as gang violence, teen pregnancy, unemployment, and gender discrimination in the workplace. Visitors will be invited to play these games during a Maker Faire that takes place on Friday, August 8 at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (969 E. 60th Street) from 1-4pm. 

Alongside their primary game design workshops, students have also been participating in specialized tracks. Each track enables our youth to zoom in on some aspect of game design that they can bring back to their primary teams. These tracks, which include four workshops each, have been taught by the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab staff. They have included tracks that take up creating serious games with learning outcomes, alternate reality game design, alternate reality game narrative and aesthetics, board game design, and board game visuals and aesthetics. We also trained a subset of the youth in what is known as “Youth Initiated Mentoring” which will enable them to find their own mentors and continue design work beyond our five-week summer program.

In this post, we’d like to offer a summary of the curricula for the skills tracks.

1. Serious Games and Procedural Rhetoric for Board and Transmedia Games (Patrick Jagoda and Peter McDonald)

This track offered an introduction to serious games and game-based learning. We introduced students to five categories of serious games: educational, political, autobiographical, artistic, and news games. Across four sessions, we focused on hands-on exercises that allowed students to brainstorm collaboratively about game concepts, present them to the group, and receive immediate feedback.

During the first session, students played games that included Sweatshop, Everyday the Same Dream, Loneliness, and Dys4ia. After gameplay, they analyzed what made these games “serious” and how each game took up its sociopolitical topic. In this session, we tried to build up a shared vocabulary and archive of case studies to which we could return in subsequent workshops. 

In the second session, we worked with youth on the process of moving from topic-specific research to a determination of an appropriate game genre and mechanics. To start, we offered examples of several games, including the alternate reality games World Without Oil and Stork and our own board game Smoke Stacks, asking students to think about how content and genre interacted in each case. Then we asked students to read short articles about two topics (gender discrimination in the workplace and gang violence) and think about how these topics might be communicated to players through different genres and mechanics.

The third workshop concerned crafting appropriate procedural rhetoric and game mechanics across serious game types. To practice mechanic creation, we had students isolate different game mechanics. Moreover, they created cards for a version of the game design game 1000 Blank Cards that focused specifically on a social justice issue.

The final session of this track turned to designing for particular audiences and contexts in which games play out. Here, for instance, the students thought through how the same game might have to be adjusted to appeal to several different audiences, including high school students on the South Side of Chicago, college students at the University of Chicago, their own parents, a mixed group from ages 18-47, and members of the Chicago Mayor’s office and other policymakers. Throughout this session, and the previous ones, we explored procedural rhetoric and game-based learning design.

2. Alternate Reality Game Design (Philip Ehrenberg and Leslie Gailloud)

Our curricula focused on tangible goals in designing gameplay moments for alternate reality games (ARGs). Drawing on our lab’s extensive experience in transmedia design, we frequently asked the youth to recontextualize their experiences during the ARG portion of S.E.E.D. from the perspective of players to that of designers.

We began the first session by defining alternate reality games and going over prominent examples, with an emphasis on the varieties of media used in the games, the uses of the games as promotional or educational tools, and how players entered each individual game through “rabbit holes” (a la following the white rabbit into Wonderland). Youth then brainstormed and began generating their own rabbit holes, thinking about how players would “discover” their games.

Moving to the topic of worlding gameplay, youth came to the second workshop to find a short-form ARG demonstrating different types of minigames. By the end of the workshop, the youth had generated different types of puzzles and how they could be adapted to fit the aesthetics and tone of each team’s game.

The third session focused on integrating social media and digital spaces into their games. The budding designers were challenged by the difficulties of moving their players between physical and digital spaces, and had to carefully consider what media served their learning goals best and how to lead their players between increasingly disparate elements.

The final workshop culminated these design questions by asking the youth to approach each other’s games from the perspective of players all over again and think critically about user experience. Teams quizzed each other as they walked through their entire transmedia experiences, challenging the designers on the emergent gameplay and narratives that arrive in ARGs, focusing on how each team would respond. The young designers ended this workshop track fully aware of the opportunities and challenges of responsive ARG gameplay.

3. Alternate Reality Game Writing, Narrative, and Transmedia Aesthetics (Keith Wilson)

In an early session, I asked the youth if a game like Monopoly has a story. They had some difficulty answering that, but decided that yes, Monopoly can have a story. Sort of. This is a central difficulty of a transmedia narrative as well: an ARG (or any game) might have a strong narrative, or it might have one only hinted at. Or a game might embrace the spontaneous stories which emerge from audience participation.

My workshop therefore focused less on ARGs as such and more on the means of creating good stories across a variety of media, especially when that media blurred the lines between fiction and reality, or when a collaborative audience experience was foundational in the creation of the narrative. The curriculum touched upon a variety of topics and skillsets.  The youth investigated stretching the limits of “traditional” media (“Can a comic book be used to teach?”). They played “Once Upon a Time,” a game where each player takes the reigns as a storyteller in a collaborative story, and were then asked to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of unstructured narrative.

In one exercise, I gave the youth pre-made Facebook accounts.  I allowed them to choose from “character cards,” short summaries of characters from Disney cartoons. The youth, who were all Facebook friends with me, were to comment on status updates that I made. I asked “A turtle is on its back in the desert. You do not help it up. Why?” The youth answered that question in character, creating conversations that approached, at times, feasible “real” conversations (the kind that emerge in ARGs all the time). But they were also writing intentionally with a focus on tone, diction, and vocabulary—skills that are valuable in a variety of “real world” applications.

4. Board Game Design (Nate Crumpley)

The purpose of this track was to focus on understanding the fundamentals of what a game designer does. For our first workshop, we discussed how to look and think about game mechanics. In our conversations, we discussed what made a good game and some examples of poorly designed games. One unsuccessful game stood out: Shoots and Ladders. The students were able to identify what made it a poorly designed game; lack of player choice. But, it also became apparent that many of the games the students were working on had a real lack of player choice and instead focused on the randomness of card flips or dice rolls. This changed the topic from mechanics to player agency and teaching the students how to give players agency in their games.

The second session for this workshop focused on balance and how small changes in a design can completely change the feeling of the game. During this session, students got a chance to play two Game Changer games: Smoke Stacks and Nickle Dime. The two games have very similar mechanics, but small rule and balance changes completely alter the overall feel of the game. Students were able to identify the similarities and small differences, which would in turn helped them to understand how to balance their own games.

 The third workshop focused on writing rule sets. Instead of trying to force the students to sit down and write out rules for their games, the students were instructed to write down instructions for creating a simple paper airplane. I would then test their instructions and implement them as if I had no background knowledge of how to undertake the task. Each student discovered how vague their instructions were when following their instructions invariably resulted in oddly folded wads of paper. After a number of trial and error tests and edits, most of the students were able to specify their institutions and succeeded in teaching a person how to properly make a paper airplane. They were able to take this knowledge of specificity and work it into their own rules sets for their own games.

It came to our attention many students where getting offended and were not able to take criticism well, so we decided to focus the final workshop on play-testing, learning how to take criticism, and criticizing each-others games in a constructive way. Each team was given time to present their game and have a few students play their current versions. Each of the players were given the task to say three positive things about the game they were playing, and offering three ways to improve that game. The constructive criticism still received mixed responses, but the responses were slightly improved. 5. Board Game Aesthetics (Ashlyn Sparrow)

This workshop introduced youth to techniques of drawing and color theory with the goal of creating unique designs for their board and card games.  The first session began by drawing primitive shapes (circles, triangles, squares) and looking through art books to break down complex drawings into simple shapes. The second workshop was an introduction to color theory.  Using red, yellow and blue icing, youth worked together to reconstruct the color wheel with vanilla wafers. Youth learned how to create secondary and tertiary colors, while learning more about contrasting and complementary colors. The last two workshops were used as a working session so that the youth were able to finish their paper prototypes.

YIM Workshop (Megan Macklin)

This summer, roughly half of our S.E.E.D. youth were randomly selected to participate in Youth-Initiated Mentoring (YIM). YIM is a forward-thinking curriculum for high school students developed by The Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Across eight lessons, participants become their own personal advocates, as they learn to take the initiative to reach out for social support themselves. Through a series of workshops and discussion activities, our youth already have made strides in their professional demeanor and in their ability to ask probing, engaged questions of potential mentors. Additionally, the YIM curriculum has sparked several insightful conversations on code-switching—the practice of speaking or presenting yourself differently to different people. While code-switching is a social reality for many of our youth, it also is an opportunity for them to connect to a diverse range of people, and to challenge stereotypes as well. YIM will come to a close this week with a speed networking event, where youth will need to perfect their “elevator” introductions as they meet professionals representing a wide variety of interests and experiences. Overall, we hope that the YIM participants will come away with tangible skills for identifying and approaching potential mentors—and for forming meaningful relationships with them—as they continue to create a robust network of support that will assist them in reaching their academic, professional, and personal goals.

Read the Chicago Sun-Times article on Game Changer Chicago and S.E.E.D.

On Being an Intern for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (Julius Stein)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game and summer program, S.E.E.D., continues with Julius Stein, a sophomore at the University of Chicago High School, who enjoys science, math, and computer science. In his free time Julius enjoys playing Ice Hockey and running Bright Technologies NFP.

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At the end of May, I read a brief snippet in the Laboratory School’s announcements. It read: “Talk to Ms. Martonfee or Mr. Janus about a Summer Link internship with the Hyde Park Bank, the University Press, the Logan Arts Center, Game Changer Chicago, and many more”.  I often skim over the endless articles that generally tell the students things they already know, but the name Game Changer stuck out to me. That day at lunch, I went to talk to Ms. Martonfee. She told me that while the vast majority of the internships were focused on the humanities, the Game Changer internship was different. The Game Changer internship would employ someone with skills in the math, science, and computer science fields, though also the humanities and arts. Having loved these fields throughout high school, I immediately went to my computer science teacher and asked if he would write me a letter of recommendation for the Summer Link internship. The internship was heavily sought after, and I applied along with a dozen other qualified students.

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Fortunately, I received the internship and was asked to return to Ms. Martonfee for a brief description to make sure that I was interested in the job. Ms. Martonfee explained that I would help Game Changer with an alternate reality game (ARG), as well as anything else they may need me to do. She explained that Game Changer Chicago was a game design lab at the University of Chicago that made board games and video games in order to teach youth about issues in reproductive health and social justice. As she detailed what my experience would include, I began to picture what my responsibilities might look like. I pictured a team of 30-year-old computer scientists sitting around a long table behind a cascade of computers. I imagined writing small programs or snippets of code that would culminate in a final alternate reality game. I told Ms. Martonfee that this was just the kind of thing that I was interested in and Ms. Martonfee replied that the next step would then be for me to contact either Patrick Jagoda or Angela Heimburger, both directors at Game Changer. 

I sent both Patrick and Angela an email introducing myself, telling them that I was very excited to be working with them, and asking for a date for me to come in for an interview. I prepared myself to be quizzed on my qualifications and given small problems to solve. I expected to walk into a glass building and up to her brown leather-filled office past a closed room from which the pale blue light of computer screens and florescent lights would emanate.  I was moderately frightened, having never had a formal interview before, and tried to prepare myself for all possible questions that could be asked of me. Finally, Friday arrived, and I spent the school day distracted by my daunting interview.

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I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was right about only two things: there was a long table in the game design room, and the building was made of glass, but nothing else that I had pictured matched. Angela met me at the front door and we walked to her office, past a closed door from which laughter radiated rather than keyboard clacking. Sunlight bled through a pale glass panel rather than florescent light. I sat down in an office chair in Angela’s leather-less office and she began to explain in more detail what my responsibilities within the program would be.  She explained that the alternate reality game would not be played on a computer, but in real life, though it would incorporate a variety of media into its everyday operations. She began to explain the involved plot line that around 80 high school students would be participating in staring in a month. Next, she took me to go meet the game designers. Rather than the 30-year-old computer scientists that I pictured huddled around a row of computers on a long tidy desk, I entered to find a team of undergraduate and graduate students drawing on the massive whiteboard and playing board games with bathroom tiles as makeshift pieces atop a desk piled high with clutter and candy bars. At this point, I began to reimagine my role.

A few weeks later, after school had ended, I came in to begin my job. I entered to find that, though it was 10:30, I was among the first to arrive. That day, the designers explained more of the plot to me, including the so-called S.E.E.D. technology that would allow an ancient order of “Temporal Archivists” to communicate with the future. I went and bought acrylic caulk and PVC glue I order to help build an acrylic housing for a bonsai tree that would sit atop a PVC stand. This was likely the least odd job of the week. I ended the day around 6, but was again surprised to find that I was among the first to leave. Throughout the week I did everything from make glowing ooze out of glue, water and dishwasher booster; visit the Hack Arts Lab to laser cut game pieces, build pieces for set design, and set up the building in which the game would soon take place.

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The game began early the following Monday. When I came in on the first morning, I donned my lab coat and became a Temporal Archivist.  Throughout the program I acted as a junior Temporal Archivist and participated in the events of the game by helping the students and other temporal archivists as they progressed through plot points. Additionally, I played occasional larger roles both within the game and in its development. For example, in the first week I helped judge the students’ debates over what real world issue would cause the end of the world. In the second week I helped lab designer Jim Taylor build D.O.T.S., a locative iPad scavenger hunt. In the third week I helped design major plot points and activities that led to the ending deliberation.

After the game was over, the students transitioned from being players to designers. They began working on board and transmedia games of their own. As the students made this shift, my responsibilities also transferred towards those of a more typical intern. I watched and learned about the process of game design, organized student activities, and helped do menial tasks like fetching office supplies. I also played board games with the students so that they could learn how games were designed and how they operated. Additionally, every week I met with the other Summer Link interns to discuss what we were doing in our internships. The vast majority of them explained that they spent much of their time taking notes, doing data entry, summarizing documents, and organizing files. When I told them about what I got to do in my internship, they were unanimously jealous.

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Throughout my experience, I was overcome by how welcoming and warm the designers were. They never ceased to include me both in their jobs and in their after-work activities. I thoroughly enjoyed working with all of them and looked forward to coming into work every day, which is more than I can say for my fellow Summer Link interns. Every morning I entered not knowing what I was going to do, but always knowing I would enjoy it. In addition to having fun I learned a variety of new and useful skills. I learned about how a massive and complex task, like creating a believable alternate reality, can be accomplished by dividing it up into individual manageable parts and dividing those up into their constituent components. I observed designers build and balance games through a series of careful playtests, and I was taught the basic mechanics of a game design engine. In all, the internship as a whole could not have been more different from what I was expecting, but in no way could I have enjoyed it more.

 

On Gender and STEM in Project S.E.E.D. (Olufunmilola “Lola” Oladini)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game (ARG) S.E.E.D continues with Olufunmilola “Lola” Oladini, a second year medical student who has been contributing as a summer research assistant in the lab. Lola is working on a research project to examine socio-demographic factors among students that are associated with increased intention of pursuing STEM careers. Lola is particularly interested in qualitatively exploring any gender-specific experiences that stood out to students during the duration of S.E.E.D.

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So what’s the deal with gender and STEM anyway? There have been numerous initiatives to start out-of-school girls’ science programs to combat the age-old trend of girls not pursuing science and technology careers, but it seems that girls still aren’t pursuing STEM careers as frequently as their male counterparts.  Some may attribute this trend to the socialization of girls in educational institutions to pursue humanities and social sciences, while others might point to the increased selective attentional capacity that males have been shown to correlate with success in math and science fields (Green & Bavelier, 2003).

A recent report in 2010 by the Government Accountability office found that there were 65 programs nationwide that focused on increasing the number of STEM professionals from traditionally underrepresented groups—i.e. females, racial and ethnic minorities, and economically disadvantaged students (Government Accountability Office, 2012). Despite the increase in the number of STEM-focused high school programs, disproportionately low numbers of minorities and women pursue STEM fields in higher education. According to the National Science Foundation, women account for less than 30% of the faculty in engineering and computer sciences (2013).

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Although the proportion of women in engineering has increased at the Master’s and PhD levels, there has been a decrease at the Bachelor’s level.  Moreover, the percent of underrepresented minority (URM) women receiving Bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, computer sciences, or engineering remains below 10%. Even fewer URM women earn Master’s and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. As of 2010, Black and Hispanic women each comprised 2% of scientists and engineers in the United States (U.S.), compared to white women who comprised 18% of scientists and engineers. Black men comprised 3% of scientists and engineers in the U.S., Hispanic men comprised 4% of scientists and engineers, compared to white men who comprised 51% of the scientists and engineers. Due to the increasing proportion of minority college-age students, the technological and economic strength of the U.S. will depend on the participation and success of minorities in STEM fields, particularly at the highest levels of education (National Academy of Sciences, 2007).

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These statistics highlight the need for educators and policy-makers to implement and evaluate STEM enrichment programs that engage minority and female pre-college students in STEM fields to increase the rate in which underrepresented populations pursue these fields.STEM enrichment programs are more likely to successfully recruit students if students come to identify themselves as scientists (Merolla et al. 2012).  Indeed a contributing editor to The Scientific American, Anna Kuchment wrote an article entitled, “To Attract More Girls into STEM, Bring More Storytelling to Science.” Novel approaches such as games and storytelling may support science identification among URM students. Researchers have increasingly recognized gameplay as a learning tool (Federation of American Scientists, 2006). African American youth on average are reported to play video games for 1.5 hours per day, approximately 1.34 times the amount spent by Caucasian youth (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010), and thus gameplay may be an effective method for engaging African American youth in STEM learning.

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Project S.E.E.D was a three-week alternate reality game that allowed players to utilize specific STEM-related concepts as they worked in teams to ‘prevent the end of the world’. My role in Project S.E.E.D. thus far has been to create a baseline survey of Project S.E.E.D. students to examine the demographic factors that correlate with intention to pursue a STEM career. Thus far, I have found no significant gender differences in intention to pursue a STEM current among the male and female participants. I plan to look at gender differences in science, technology, engineering, and math interest as well.

Additionally, I followed a team for the three weeks of Project S.E.E.D., and took field observations on team interactions.  For instance, on July 9th when the team was preparing for a debate, the sole female team member decided to stop participating during debate practice after a male team member presented his part of the team’s argument. She said, “I was gonna do closing arguments in the debate, but I won’t go anymore… I can’t follow that!” While such interactions may be atypical, it was interesting to note that Project S.E.E.D. students were approximately 66% male.

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 I am excited to conduct further analysis on the factors behind male and female enrollment into Project S.E.E.D., and to also read through transcripts from the all-male and all-female focus groups that we held at the end of the three-week ARG to better understand any gendered aspects of the Project S.E.E.D experience. I also hope to learn which aspects of the ARG, whether the problem-solving, the story plot, or the teamwork, was most engaging for male and female participants. The ultimate hope to explore factors that motivate both male and female students to engage in STEM.  By doing this, we may find the key to increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented minority students that pursue STEM careers. 

On Research for an Alternate Reality Game (Camille Fabiyi)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game S.E.E.D. continues with Camille Fabiyi, PhD, MPH, senior researcher at Game Changer Chicago’s parent organization, Ci3. She received her doctorate in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the division of Community Health Sciences.

The last four weeks of S.E.E.D. have involved numerous activities, merging narrative, science fiction, alternate reality, cooperative gameplay, and game design into a unique and engaging experience for youth. In earlier blog entries, a series of designers have related these activities to STEM skills and 21st Century Literacies, such as problem-solving, leadership, and collaboration.

In addition to being a designed game and a learning intervention, S.E.E.D. is also a research study. One task of our research is to understand how youth are making sense of their Alternate Reality Game (ARG) participation around these skills, literacies, and their overall learning. The best way to gain this understanding is to ask direct questions and simply listen to youth. This is what I and other researchers have done and will continue through the end of the five-week program through focus groups and individual interviews.

Listening to youth’s perceptions of their experience in the program has been extremely insightful thus far. Discussions with youth from both formats (focus groups and interviews) have been lively and illuminating. For instance, many have expressed an appreciation for the collaborative aspects of the ARG, remarking how the group work has helped them become more open-minded and strengthened their capacity to collaboratively solve problems  and accomplish tasks; rather than trying to “figure out everything alone.” Others have also remarked how their S.E.E.D. experience, particularly the topics explored through group debates, has broadened their ideas about future careers and college majors, even if they are considering a specific STEM discipline.

It has been particularly refreshing to listen to the anecdotes and stories that youth have shared in these illuminating discussions because all of them are making sense of their participation and their future selves in a very thoughtful and careful way. Interestingly, many have started to think beyond the program and develop strategies for the coursework and STEM activities they would like to pursue in their areas of interest.  

On Mentorship and Game Design (Rodney Allen)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game and summer program, S.E.E.D., continues with Rodney Allen, a 2nd year graduate student at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and the Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy. Rodney works as a Lead Mentor and Coordinator for S.E.E.D.

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Cohesiveness and consistency are essential ingredients to effective mentorship. These intangibles are conduits to the development of rich substantial mentor/mentee relationships. Because research shows that mentoring is a promising strategy for youth development, it is imperative that caring adults engage students in a manner that positively influences their personal, academic, and social development. Here at S.E.E.D., our staff, game designers, and mentors have approached mentorship with high levels of professionalism, practicality, and purpose. Our mentors are students from various backgrounds who are in college and graduate school. They come from schools such as DePaul University, DePauw University, Barnard College, Denison University, and The University of Chicago.imageOur purpose at S.E.E.D. has been direct and intentional. As our game designers and mentors collaborate to assist in setting youth up for success in their quest to become competent professionals who are prepared to compete on the world’s stage. We offer innovative and engaging games that are structured to provoke critical thinking and collaborative work. While the game designers spend countless hours constructing game materials, strategies, and concepts that will assist youth in thinking, competing, and cooperating beyond their immediate environments, mentors assist mentees in exploring their potential. This level of structure and collaboration affords mentees exposure to STEM concepts that are in high demand in the world’s market. 

imageOur success resides in the understanding that good intentions do not make good mentors. For us here at S.E.E.D., good intentions were merely the spark that ignited the flame. Along with these intentions came a series of innovative strategies that bridged game design with relationship building. From the beginning of our program, mentors provided the social components of relationship building through a series of icebreakers that helped establish a high quality context with our youth. This took place simultaneously to the game designers working to create games that provoked critical thinking in areas of infectious disease, social and global inequality, and cryptography.

imageAfter extensive planning, designing, and development, we were positioned to engage students with games such as Infection City. This is the game that provides students with insight about the importance of strategically placed prevention and treatment centers. Awareness of the aforementioned is extended while educating students in areas of preventive health and infectious disease. Tales From Decrypt is a game that is designed to prepare students with competencies in decryption and encryption. This game requires a heightened sense of awareness and logic. In addition, this game has the potential to enhance mathematical reasoning skills.  One of my personal favorites was Nickel/Dime. This is a game that provokes thinking in areas of social and global inequalities. Nickel/Dime provides students with scenarios of how the rich get richer as the poor struggle to survive. In this game everyone begins on an even playing field, but as the game progresses it becomes stratified to where a few players gain nearly 90% of the resources while everyone else in the majority fight for the remaining 10%.

imageNot only did our students enjoy the games, they also excelled in reference to the narrative, group dynamics, and relationship building with mentors. Since most of our youth come from low-income and underrepresented communities, it important that we are culturally aware as we attempt to expose them to STEM field learning and critical thinking exercises. Our game designers were proud to witness these developments in congruence with S.E.E.D.’s objectives. The main objectives at S.E.E.D. are to position youth for their future academic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal success. It is for this reason that the games are designed for our youth to:

  • Gain awareness in game design;
  • Build cohesiveness among a diverse student population;
  • Experience learning as a fun activity that should be embraced;
  • Gain and increase awareness about the value of STEM field learning;
  • Engage in critical thinking, personally and in broader society

On a practical level, students are less prone to engage in risky behavior because we provide constructive use of their idle time. Beyond this, we provide tangible examples through mentorship and game design of how responsible and productive behavior will be beneficial to their continued development.

imageIt is our hope that the youth of S.E.E.D. will continue to exhibit the rich development that they have demonstrated during their time with us. Our vision is that the lessons of critical thinking, appropriate behavior, and cohesiveness through group dynamics will transcend throughout their educational development. As one of the Lead Mentors and Coordinators for Ci3 and S.E.E.D., I know that families, society, and academia will surely recognize the benefits of Game Changer Chicago Design Lab and our efforts to nurture the development of our youth.

On Collaboration and Mutual Negotiation (Collin Soderberg-Chase)

Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game S.E.E.D. continues with Collin Soderberg-Chase, a first-time mentor with Game Changer Chicago. Collin comes from the mountainous state of Oregon, where he completed his B.A. from the University of Oregon in history and religious studies in 2009. Since that time he has worked for numerous organizations that focus on youth development and support, worked toward a master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and recently obtained a teaching license in secondary social studies.

Historically, our secondary educational system has been focused overwhelmingly on the individual. Once students leave elementary school, where the classrooms oftentimes have a sense of community as the students move from one grade to another with the same group, middle and high school brings a heightened focus on individual grades, customized class schedules, and the division of course opportunities based on student test scores. That is not to say that students do not have chances to collaborate or work toward a greater common goal with others – sports teams and school clubs being the best examples of this – but the majority of the teenage reality is spent on individualistic pursuits.

However, as you all know, life is not spent in solitary. Every day we come into contact with others, and these interactions regularly require patience, understanding, and listening and speaking skills. This is true in many work environments and notably essential in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields. Noticing this imbalance between the individual student and the partnerships that create success in greater society, I have approached my role as a mentor in the S.E.E.D. alternate reality game and game design workshop as one is devoted to cultivating teamwork and collaboration. A program like Project S.E.E.D not only introduces students to STEM concepts, but it intrinsically creates an engaging and intellectual environment that provides the opportunity for the youth to practice collaboration and mutual negotiation. In fact, the students quickly realize that it is only through the group can the individual be successful.

Take for example the series of debates each team participated in during week one. My group, Team Digitalis, was given the topic of global inequality as a contributing cause of the end of the world. Our task was to research the subject and then prepare convincing arguments and counterarguments for a debate against the other groups. From the start, this project presented an interesting challenge: Because every team member contributes a unique personality and skill set to the group, as a mentor I had to navigate this variety in order to effectively guide the students through each layer of the debate. Nevertheless, this process allowed the youth to participate in one of the necessary components of collaboration: one must contribute individually in order to find success as a whole. Each member stepped up to the plate in different ways. I had one youth write an opening statement and another concentrated on the closing remarks. At the same time there were a couple players outlining our argument, a couple more doing research, and a few more preparing possible cross-examination questions. If one had walked by our team’s space during this phase, it may have looked like everyone was very separated; in reality, however, the players were working toward a common goal, sharing information and providing assistance when necessary.

As the weeks progressed, Team Digitalis continued to work on activities as a team. Just yesterday, though, my group embarked on one of its most difficult collaborative challenges. These final two weeks, Project S.E.E.D. has transitioned from an alternate reality game (ARG) to a game design lab. The youth are now tasked with developing their own game from scratch. During our first brainstorming session, I quickly realized that the players were verbalizing many different ideas about the game, while at the same time having trouble allowing others express their views. In response, I decided to use a similar technique as I did during the debate and break off into smaller groups, permitting the refinement of concepts before a larger discussion. These groups were going to have to agree on specific aspects of the game, write them down on paper, and then justify them to the whole team during a period of critique and negotiation. While in the end the team game concept building was still tedious for some members, and I still had to occasionally remind them the importance of allowing others the chance to speak, we successfully created a framework of our game.

Collaboration and negotiation are still skills that need to be practiced, but I have witnessed growth in the youth the past three weeks. They recognize that ideas benefit from peer review and critique; they are beginning to learn when to listen to the views of others and when to advocate for their own suggestions.

As their mentor, I can safely say that every activity the youth have been involved in – the debates, cryptography, the scavenger hunt, and game building – has been successful because they have worked as a group. Collaboration is where their strength lies, and has been vital to all of their accomplishments in S.E.E.D.