Inspire a New Generation of Game Experiences for Children
February 8, 2010 | Commentary | Digital Media & Learning Competition, Digital Media & Learning

Originally published in The Huffington Post, MacArthur Director of Education Connie Yowell discusses Digital Media and Learning's new and innovative contest.

As "Avatar" smashes box office records and new science-fiction action video game "Mass Effect 2" seems to be lighting up the global gaming community, an international competition to inspire a new generation of game experiences for children is being announced.

It is the hope of the contest supporter, the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning program, that the contest draws out edgy, gripping 21st century gaming experiences that leverage the incredible popularity of games (one recent national survey indicated that 90% of U.S. teenagers have played video games) with the creative and highly engaging learning potential of games.

In fact, the winning game adventures will be made available for free to the game playing community — with special attention being given to libraries in low-income areas.

News of the competition has been making its way through the gaming community, and a number of contest proposals have already come in. They contain some provocative creative plots and adventures: finding a missing genius scientist, repelling invaders of human consciousness, and the proper care and feeding of aliens. There are some intriguing new potential heroes, too, including: "Sackboy," a Geico-like lizard named "Sal," and an invisible time-traveling professor named "Momo."

Winners of the "Game Changer" competition will receive cash awards ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

Winners will also receive recognition from leading game makers, Sony Computer Entertainment of America and Electronic Arts, who are partners in the competition.

All of the contest details can be found at the contest website. Deadline for entries is Feb. 15. The public is also invited to comment on the proposed entries and, at a later time, will even be able to vote for their favorites. In fact, contestants will actually have a chance to review all of the public's advice and incorporate it into their final proposals.

One other goal of the "Game Changer" competition is to take advantage of the immensely popular educational video games, LittleBigPlanet (winner of numerous "Game of the Year" awards in 2008) and Spore Galactic Adventures. In fact, it's expected that the winning entries will be added as new levels into those games.

Contest submissions will be judged by a panel drawn from the LittleBigPlanet and Spore game playing communities, as well as experts recruited by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC). HASTAC is run by David Theo Goldberg, director of the systemwide University of California Humanities Research Institute, based on the Irvine campus, and Cathy Davidson at Duke University. There are 12 different categories, so there are many opportunities to win. A crucial criterion will be the potential for the game experience to deliver excellent learning content in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. These disciplines have been highlighted in large measure because the Obama administration has made education and America's standing as a leader in areas like technology and science a top priority for the nation and his domestic agenda.

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