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On Youth, Digital Media, and Learning at The Source: Megan Macklin

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Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game The Source continues with the perspective of Lab fellow and University of Chicago graduate student, Megan Macklin. She writes about working with youth on creative projects and digital media skills.

From lines of a short story to lines of HTML code, audio compilations to visual collages, players of The Source continue to submit weekly creative reflections that showcase their engagement with social justice issues and their developing technical skills. As Professor Patrick Jagoda discussed in a previous post, The Source is experimenting with digital badges as a way to cultivate literacy in the interests and skills that will be crucial for our youth in an increasingly digital age. Weekly badge-specific prompts and workshops challenge our players to build a strong and diverse foundation in web design, blogging, sound design, social media, or visual media production. Their activities are cumulative and will soon be collaborative: for the game’s final project, each player team will be charged with restoring a website (created by the protagonist’s father in 1996) that will require the talent of every player in each of these five core areas.

As the coordinator of the blogger badge, so far I have seen players hone their writing skills while learning to incorporate the narrative elements of setting, character, and plot, as well as the stylistics of tone and voice. Two weeks ago, players were tasked with creating a short story that spoke to that week’s themes of health, scientific method and hypothesis testing, and epidemiology. In order to share their stories, players also created their own WordPress blogs. As stories and URLs streamed in, I was blown away by the imaginative maturity of our youth’s work. Many players chose to write on topics similar to the one discussed by Leslie Gailloud in yesterday’s post: the scary revelation that someone has contracted a sexually transmitted infection. A sensitive and potentially very personal issue, STIs are often discussed at a distance, if they are not considered taboo altogether. However, our players’ stories deftly navigated the realities of peer pressure, alcohol impairment, and unprotected sex, and they subtly explored the nuances of guilt, shame, and eventual empowerment. One player narrated a hazing incident that left the newest members of the cool crowd with herpes simplex. Another player wrote about a rampant eye infection spawned from a game of Truth or Dare that shut down Owlwing High School. Finally, a player described one girl’s experience contracting herpes, and her inspiration to inaugurate a campaign for disclosing information with sexual partners.

The creative digital contributions of our youth are impressive, both in the complexity of the skills that players have demonstrated and in the sophistication they continue to exhibit while tackling difficult social issues. We have compiled a selection of outstanding player work on a Reflection Highlights page. Overall, we hope that our digital badges—and The Source in general—will serve multiple purposes: to teach and certify technical proficiency, to inspire engagement in school and with social issues, and to encourage creativity and collaboration throughout. As new, innovative literacies in media and games continue to intersect with more traditional ones, the future of education and of professional success will likely require a unique and evolving balance of capabilities. Furthermore, our players especially have shown us that youth respond extraordinarily well to games as a learning medium and as a creative outlet. As The Source winds down towards its final week, I look forward to reading, viewing, listening, and experiencing the inspired and inspiring work that our youth continue to generate.