Michigan State University’s Media and Information department welcomed a troop of Girl Scouts from Livonia this past Saturday, encouraging the girls to play and learn with technology. Led by Patrick Shaw, professor and owner of indie game company Triquetra Games, the girls partook in a day of robotics, animation, programming, and even a bit of game design.
As the day began, one of Shaw’s first questions included “What does a game programmer do?” One of the girl scouts excitedly answered, “He makes the coding that makes the game work!” Shaw smiled and added “Or she,” and the Girl Scout nodded in approval, adding “he or she” to her answer. It wasn’t surprising that she choose to answer this way. According to the 2014 Game Developer Salary Survey, only 5% of game design programmers in the US are women, and much of this has to do with the social and cultural view of STEM professions as male occupations. But this day camp sought to change that, and I had the pleasure of participating.
Saturday was all about dispelling the belief that boys are better at math, and by association, engineering, science, and the like. Math is hard for many of us, as one girl scout pointed out, and with Mattel authoring books that teach boys are better at math, it would seem we have a lot of work to do. Math is hard, for some, but as another Girl Scout pointed out “girls can do anything boys can.”
Besides pushing down a negative narrative about gender, Shaw also sought to find out what these girls wanted most in a game, in order to better design Triquetra Game’s .BOT, an exploration and discovery experience for young women in which they can discover ancient civilizations, new technology, and build robots. Through two exercises—Be the Producer and Be the Engineer—we got an inside look at what young girls value in games.
Multiplayer, storytelling, and quests topped the list, with snapshots coming in last place. Even more interesting was a discussion within a group on whether cosmetic customization (changing the appearance of their robots) or 250 customizable robot parts would be the better feature. The discussion ended when one Girl Scout noticed that with 250 more parts, they could build many more robots, and also customize them. The girls agreed that more parts would be better than cosmetics. All of the Girl Scouts agreed that how well a game plays is more important than game graphics as well.
From there, the girls went on to code dancing cats in Scratch, an online programming tool for kids. Like many of the other activities that day, this one let the girls create using technology, and I think it was the perfect tool for showing them one of the many possibilities that computers and technology hold for them. Every girl was engaged with the program, and many of them got the hang of the visual programming editor very quickly. Some Girl Scouts even made their own accounts!
And all this before lunchtime!