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Exploring imagination through games

- Game Education PDX launches inaugural Rockwood camp


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Zach Burke, a mentor, helps camp members understand the visual programming software, SNAP, they will use.

Sixteen students gathered around laptops and prepared for the day’s adventure: creating video games with SNAP, a visual programming software.

Gresham area students brought games to life during the inaugural Rockwood Library Game Camp held Dec. 30-Jan 4.

The camp was a part of Game Education PDX, an initiative led by Pixel Arts Game Education that strives to connect Portland youths from underprivileged areas with hands-on game education.

“This was a good entry point for learning about the gaming environment,” said Megan Pixley, a senior at Reynolds High School who loves video games and aspires to become a video arts story writer.

Pixley and friend Rachael Knudson, a Reynolds senior, also were impressed with the number of girls — about 20 percent of the group — participating in an often male-dominated subject.

“I don’t think you should ever let your gender hold you back from what you really want to do,” Pixley said. And game camp only further inspired her dreams.

During game camp, students built their own game worlds using cards, paper, tiles, dice and tokens; wrote and illustrated a “choose-your-own-adventure” game with Twine, a storytelling software tool; brought their games to life with SNAP; and had a free day to continue working on their projects.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jeremy Lichtenberg, left, and Jafet Reboyras are assisted by volunteer Aditya Adiga.

Sibling duo Alejandra and Zander Ortega, a sixth-grader at H.B. Lee Middle School and fourth-grader at Glenfair Elementary School respectively, had no previous game experience but loved their time at camp. They plan to attend more game-related events.

“We had a goal to make sure kids could stay for a full five-day experience or pop in each day,” said Will Lewis, one of the camp organizers and co-founder of Pixel Arts Game Education. “We wanted to show the experience of prototyping and designing ... and also a little more advanced computer logic.”

Lewis and Jeffrey Sens, co-organizer and co-founder of Pixel Arts, hope to offer game camps like Rockwood’s in libraries throughout Multnomah County as Games Education PDX expands.

Their goal is to eventually lead workshops at multiple libraries at a time, with lead mentors broadcasting lessons through a video network such as Google Hangouts. Several volunteer mentors would assist students at each library with their projects.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Yori Kvitchko, a lead mentor, instructs students in SNAP, describing how they can give a 'turtle' commands to move certain directions.

“We want to make sure students are able to take something home with them,” Lewis said. “Each kid gets a USB drive with their projects, software and starting points to get them launched.”

Lewis and Sens say they try to create “a space of exploration and discovery,” so if a student doesn’t want to do a particular project, there are other options.

Why games?

Lewis noted the burgeoning independent game development scene and widespread publishing technology that has revolutionized the video game realm. Both Lewis and Sens belong to the Portland Indie Game Squad and met through this group.

Older generations or people unfamiliar with the gaming world may hold their stereotypes about it, but Lewis describes gaming as “collaborative, creative world making.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Will Lewis, one of the camp organizers and co-founder of Pixel Arts Game Education, said he and Jeffrey Sens have a goal of introducing game education to underprivileged youths and helping to build digital literacy.

“I’ve experienced this personally when I’m able to play in a game, customize it, have my own experience and offer input into someone else’s creation,” Lewis said. “My experience in playing games had me interested in making my own world. From these experiences, I’ve been able to start game developer and educational communities that have been really positive experiences.

“When (students) are able to take inspiration (from games) and influence their own world, we find it to be a positive and powerful experience.”

In their workshops, Lewis and Sens try to mix subject matters such as games and reading or art and design.

“Some people say games are things only young boys play, but our community shows that’s not true,” Sens said. “There are games with guns and violence, but there are also many more varieties of games out there — rich and interesting and dynamic games.”

At OMSI’s Mini Maker Faire, Sens described seeing young children, older children, parents and grandparents playing games with each other — how suddenly gaming became this big community experience.

This is the type of community that Lewis and Sens want to introduce, where students learn not only technical skills, but emotional intelligence and resilience.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - When taking part in the Rockwood Library Camp, all attendees abided by the philosophy, 'You can't say you can't play.'

The camp works under a philosophy, “You can’t say you can’t play,” the title of a book, with the extra line, “Work together, learn together.”

“We want them to have the ability to fail and not be discouraged by failure,” Sens said. “We want them to learn how to ask for help and express what they need so they can go further. We want them to meet friends and people outside of their communities.”

Global Game Jam

At the Global Game Jam, friends and community members come together to make their own games in a span of 48 hours.

Join the Portland Indie Game Squad from 5-7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, in Room 263 of the Art Institute of Portland to see the final steps of a 48-hour game-making challenge.

As games become completed, play them side-by-side with their developers. The event is free and open to all ages, with snacks provided.

For more information about the Global Game Jam, including registration, visit the official event posting: pigsquad.com/.

For more information, visit www.gameeducationpdx.com.