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JOB POSTING: GCC Seeks FT Game Developer

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Game Changer Chicago Design Lab is seeking a full-time Game Developer to join its team.

The Game Developer will develop games for web and mobile platforms, primarily using the Unity 3D engine. S/he will serve as a technical lead on various projects, consult on technical specifications from conceptualization to launch, and help to guide architecture and framework decisions with informed technical strategy and expertise with tools and utilities. In addition to writing code, the Game Developer will lead other developers or students working on technical aspects of assigned projects, spearhead the code review process and work with the project lead to set development schedules.

Full job description and application here (requisition number 094866).

Stay Tuned for “The Talk” - Our First Mobile Experiment

In this game, a young adolescent keeps returning to ask a parent over-the-top (and often funny) questions about sex, sexuality and life in general. The parent has four responses to choose from.

Warning: please disregard the production value. The Mobile Experiments are intended to be quick prototypes for game ideas. They are made in collective brainstorming sessions that include researchers and game designers. The games are created in 1-2 weeks of digital prototyping. 

The Mobile Experiments Group

The mobile experiments group meets once a week to brainstorm new ideas for projects. The meetings include both researchers and game designers - and may eventually include youth fellows. The emphasis is on collaborative brainstorming, finding common ground, and quick, 1-2 two week digital prototypes. Most projects only last for a one week cycle, but some may include a critique after the first week, and an additional week of prototyping. Projects and prototypes come and go quickly. The idea is to build a nice repository of digital prototypes to see which ideas have staying power. The group was founded by Dr. Patrick Jagoda and the digital prototypes are created by James Taylor. 

Hexacago Contest Winners!

Its time to announce are winners for the Hexacago Contest! The $1000 prize and a big congratulations goes to:

Cary Zhang - “Dirty Business”
Mason Arrington - “The Grass is Never Greener”

SInce there were so many great Hexacago entries we had to give props to our runners-up:

Grace Jackson - “Diversity”
Brandon Bell - “Populace”
Dustin “Trevor” Ly - (Untitled Game)

Thank you everyone for all your hard work!

A Day in the Life - Workshops With Youth

Game Changer Chicago Design Lab's learning design specialist Amanda Dittami talks about the progress of GCC's new game for youth, A Day in the Life.

For the past couple of weeks the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (GCC) has been visiting high schools on the South Side to get inspiration for one of our upcoming games, A Day in the Life.

A Day in the Life is a single player narrative-driven game where the player experiences a reoccurring day of high school. The player has a limited time during each playthrough and once time runs out, the game starts back at the beginning. This feature helps us stress one of our main learning objectives: to convey the importance of decision-making and how those decisions affect the player’s self as well as other characters and world itself. 

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A Day in the Life will be a dialogue heavy game, similar to the play-style of The Walking Dead. This format gives us an opportunity to tell meaningful stories and touch on a wide-range of topics. SPOILER: Instead of capturing the essence of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, we are trying to capture a day in the life of high school students in an urban setting. In order to incorporate relevant and realistic stories, we have been visiting high schools and asking high school students directly what is on their minds. 

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To help create a comfortable environment, GCC came up with a small narrative-building game. In this game, the youth work together to come up with topics, build a scene and characters around that topic, and play out actions by the characters they created.  After the game, we take time to ask the youth how these stories relate to their real life experiences. Some topics have included bullying, homophobia, sex, youth violence, relationships, and more.  Along with the game, we have also stressed the importance of having their voices heard. The youth have really jumped on this opportunity, giving us a great deal of inspiration.

Visiting and interacting with the youth gives us a better idea of who our target audience is. This method will also allow us to move beyond the clichéd high school characters that are so often portrayed in media. Hearing what the youth have to say gives us the opportunity to create an experience that resonates with our target audience.  Along with a more realistic game experience, we are also giving youth the opportunity to help create a game. We are honored by the schools who have participated and to the students who have been so enthusiastic and open.

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Thanks to the following schools who have participated in A Day in the Life workshops:

  • Perspectives/IIT Math and Science Academy
  • Perspectives High School of Technology
  • Collins Academy High School
  • Baker College Prep

If your school is interested in a GCC visit, please email Amanda @ adittami@bsd.uchicago.edu.

Game Changer Chicago Design Lab can offer participating schools and youth credits in the game.

A Day in the Life team:

  • Amanda Dittami
  • Ashlyn Sparrow
  • James Taylor
  • Keith Wilson
  • Lena Dickinson
  • Megan Macklin
  • Dr. Melissa Gilliam
  • Dr. Patrick Jagoda
  • Philip Ehrenberg
  • Ragnar Anderson
The Baristas had an amazing sense of humor! Hanging out by the iconic telephone booths This team created a board game about the workforce and youth. A folk game where you had to attack your enemy with a wooden spoon...blindfolded...and in slow motion! Key note speaker at Mozfest

Mozilla Festival Q&A

Ashlyn Sparrow, Game Designer at Game Changer Chicago’s Design Lab, describes her time at Mozfest in London

Tell us about Mozfest, the Hive Network, and how you became involved with both.

The Hive Network is a locally driven network of organizations dedicated to teaching youth.  There are currently Hives in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City and Toronto with upcoming Hives in Indonesia and San Francisco.  The Mozilla Foundation runs the Hive Networks in Chicago, Pittsburgh and NYC, creating technologies that empower people to take learning into their own hands. 

MozFest (Mozilla Festival) is an annual conference/Maker Party that is organized by the Mozilla Foundation.  Each Hive Network had space for two attendees, who would explore the festival, make connections with other Hivers, and host a hands-on activity during the Maker Party.  Since Game Changer Chicago is part of Hive Chicago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn from other orgs and show off our own projects.

While my pop-up idea was not selected, Mozilla had additional funding to support travel of additional Chicago Hive members. After two weeks, I got the green light!

Can you talk about your experience in London – what was Mozfest like, who else was there and how did you spend your days?

London is a beautiful city. My first day was spent walking around Westminster and take in all the tourist sights like Big Ben and Westminster Abby while enjoying local foods (Steak Pie is amazing!). 

Mozfest was a three-day festival held at Ravensbourne University in East London. This nine-story building held almost 1,000 developers, educators and youth over the course of three days. The motto was “less yack, more hack”, creating an air of inclusivity throughout the space.

Most of my time was spent attending sessions from Open Games, one of the eight ‘tracks’ of the fest. Open Games brought together indie developers, youth and some industry leaders to question, discuss and create the next set of innovative games.  More importantly, we made games that didn’t require coding or artistic skill.  Using paper, pens and a couple of animal figures, we were able to create a fun game in less than 10 minutes. The hands-on approach the conference took really kept me actively engaged.

The rest of my time was dedicated to supporting my fellow Chicago during the Maker Party. Youth learned to create stop-motion animations and Artistic Robots at stations lead by Heather Schneider, Shedd Aquarium and Jackie Moore, LevelUP. Other Hive Chicago members included David Bild, Nature Museum; Brenda Hernandez, Yollocali; Maria Hibbs, Chicago Community Trust and lastly, Sam Dyson, Robert Friedman, and Elsa Rodriguez, Hive Chicago.

How was Mozfest different from other conferences you’ve attended?

Typically, conferences are passive experiences: go to a session, listen for an hour, ask a couple of questions, and repeat.  At Mozfest, people don’t talk just talk, they do.  The majority of my time at the Mozfest was spent making board games or hacking together ideas with others. 

Also, this was the most youth-friendly conference I’ve ever attended since they were all over the Open Games Track. Young people were actively engaging with adults to create different games or ask questions. Saturday was the Maker Party, where youth and adults could hangout and learn to code, build robots or even create stop-motion animations. I’ve never seen a conference quite like it!

What was your favorite part of the conference?

My favorite part was this session called Designing Openness in Games for Public Spaces led by Sebastian Quack from Invisible Playground. This session required designers to use specific aspects of public spaces to make a game for people to enjoy. The game should also be open so that people can join the experience at any given time.  The interesting thing was that the majority of people didn’t realize they were playing a game!

One group created a game that simulated the confusion driving on the road in the UK versus France.  Designers stood in a specific pattern in a walkway. As people walked through, the designers would move around with the hope that people would switch from one side of the “road” to the other.

Another group created a game around the coffee stand. Designers broke up into two teams: tea-drinkers and coffee-drinkers.  The goal was to convince unsuspecting players to order a drink from your category.  If a player ordered mocha, all the coffee-drinkers cheered while the tea-drinkers cried out in agony.  It was a lot of fun to watch players smile, unsure of what they’ve done. 

How will your experience at Mozfest inform your work with Game Changer Chicago?

My experience at Mozfest opened my eyes to many different tools that can help foster youth education, from Arduinos to hack-able web applications. However, they are just tools.  There is really no context around them.  I think Game Changer could leverage some of these tools especially when thinking about our next summer program. 

Also, it was nice to be around others in the educational space and see/hear the importance of your work.  It serves as a nice moral booster for the team!

The Hexacago Project Begins!

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Hexacago is a suite of board games that explore economic, environmental, and epidemiological issues rooted in the city of Chicago, using a grid of hexagons to represent different regions and train lines. Game Changer Chicago will also use augmented reality (AR) technology that superimposes a computer-generated image or video on a user’s view of the real world, to deepen learning and exploration among designers, players, and teachers.

Hexacago has four main goals:

1. Design five games that confront disparities and inequalities in Chicago.

2. Develop curricula around Hexacago games for in-school play.

3. Create a written toolkit so any organization can repurpose the Hexacago board and create games that deal with other issues.

4. Produce one fully functional AR board game.

This game is being developed by the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, part of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3) at The University of Chicago.

On The Conclusion of The Source Alternate Reality Game and the Future of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab: Melissa Gilliam and Patrick Jagoda

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To conclude The Source game, the founders of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, Melissa Gilliam and Patrick Jagoda reflect on the conclusion of this educational experiment and the future of the Lab.

Last week we wrapped up The Source. During the final event, the main characters Adia, Ros, and Micah (played by three talented high-school actors) visited players and teams who pitched alternative endings to the story of Adia’s missing father. We ended with a party for players and parents with prizes for the top five teams and digital badges for the players who earned them. On Friday we hosted a lunch for our wonderful youth mentors. A few youth returned to help build the Center website that was at the core of the game’s narrative. To do this, they put to use their newly honed web, audio, photography, blogging, and social networking skills.  This week, these youth will present their work at the Chicago Summer of Learning Summer Showcase. Some stopped by to give us feedback for next summer’s alternate reality game and many begged us to tell them whether it was real. 

As we begin archiving photographs, transcribing focus groups, and cleaning survey data, we ask a similar question. Was The Source real? Will the experiences and lessons learned carry forward and affect the participating youth as they return to their schools, their friends, and their futures? Moreover, does the premise of our lab hold water? Can learning through games and narrative affect real world transformation for youth?

The Source focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and math. These topics are of personal interest to us as university professors. We want to engender an appreciation of science and art as well as a general love of learning. Yet, it reflects a larger theme of our lab. The educational approach of “connected learning” states that outside of school we can help youth discover their personal interests and tap into their peer cultures to create experiences that will carry over to their in-school lives. During The Source, we watched youth solve problems and puzzles (some of which we thought were unsolvable); engage in college classrooms and museums; work with university scholars and professionals; and learn new technological skills and digital media capacities. Our gut tells us that this experience is connected learning in action. We hope that our data will provide some answers. We will conduct follow up surveys, compare their grades to those of the previous years, and compare their grades to those of other youth in Chicago. 

We will also want to find out whether youth developed assets associated with thriving and decreased risk behaviors. Through our focus groups and individual interviews we will see whether the concepts we embedded in the game took hold. In designing The Source we focused on the four internal (commitment to learning, positive personal values, social competence, and positive personal identity) and four external asset categories (support by people who care and accept them, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time). Through pre and post testing we hope to see which assets were affected, if any.

We will also want to find out which parts of The Source were engaging and which were not, as well as what players learned. We have photos of youth with furrowed brows, in deep discussion, laughing, and playing. But we have left it to colleagues from the Center for Elementary Math and Science Education and our colleague Franklin Gay (PhD from the School of Social Service Administration) to ask these questions.

We started the Game Changer Design Lab because we are wholly committed to creating opportunities and opening doors for young people, especially those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. We do not select the youth who participate in our programs and have no idea how they perform in school and what their skills are. Yet, our games open up to many learning styles (e.g., cooperation, competition, roleplaying, and hands-on creation), interest areas (e.g., storytelling, gameplay, and team engagement), and academic areas (e.g., science, math, art, and creative writing), allowing young people to play from many vantage points and excel for different reasons. It will take a while to wrap up The Source as there are papers to write, reports to create, and lessons to be learned.

Our team of 5 fellows who valiantly helped design the game will return to its full complement of 10 and will be joined by 10 high school aged youth fellows. We will continue to hone our projects, such as the Infection Four card game and the Lucidity interactive narrative, which have taken a back seat to The Source in recent weeks. We have become intrigued by our game board “Hexacago,” The Source’s workhorse, which served as the backbone of game development across many of the weeks. We are hoping to augment “Hexacago” with elements of digital media and await anxiously to learn if our grant proposal will be funded. We will also begin designing a new 3D role-playing and decision-making game for which the working title is A Day in the Life. Finally, we are also starting to look forward to the use of mobile technologies in future game projects.

We would like to thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, the University of Chicago, and all of our partners for their generous support of The Source

And we would like to thank you for following The Source. We hope you continue to follow our Lab on our main site, Facebook, and Twitter.