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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!