Yesterday, as part of the UT-Explore open house, we run two 4o minute workshops for children and teens at the Belo Center for New Media. It was a very fast video game prototyping exercise that kids enjoyed a lot. This activity was a mini-version of some of the activities we designed and implemented last summer during a two-week summer camp for middle school students. We used iPods and iPads loaded with the Sketch Nation Studio application. This software is very easy to use. Very fast, users can create a working game of three different genre: running, flying, or jumping. Although these kind of games are simple and lack of complexity, they could also be engaging, especially when the user is creating a video game for the first time in her life. Furthermore, this kind of simple games can also be used to tell compelling stories and design interesting characters and worlds.
After a brief introduction to the workshop in where we talked about the multiple opportunities for creation of content that young people has, the new skills that they are developing, and the kinds of games that can be made with Sketch Nation, we proceeded to let them play with the tools. In a truly hands-on fashion we decided to skip a demo of the app and instead of that told them to do the tutorials themselves and start creating the games right away. Children, teens, and parents were all excited about doing their own games. Very few in the audience have had that experience before. In order to make the activity more challenging, each developer team had to draw a character and a setting from a bag where we have placed them (printed in pieces of paper). The characters and settings were a mixture of fantasy and UT culture. For instance, they designed characters such as a longhorn bull, a turtle, a cowboy, a unicorn, and a professor; and settings like a library, the UT tower, and the stadium.
The potential of digital technologies for creation of content, design, sharing and play is indeed big. As the tools and applications make usage easier, not only young people is being able to play and create content. In these two workshops we saw how accompanying parents were also engaged in the process of creation and collaborated with their children. I think that the potential for inter-generational collaborations is something that we need to explore more in the kind of learning activities that are designed for youth.