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Matthew W.

DLL Program Assistant

Today DLL was at the Movable Game Jam, an event series with “multiple educators, organizations, and individuals coming together to put on an event to introduce youth to game design.” The goal is to use social and political themes to create interactive games that can be modified by students, introducing them to important issues while simultaneously building their game design skills. The theme of this particular event was “local stories and immigrant voices,” to which DLL contributed “Journey of a Syrian Refugee,” a Scratch game made by Matthew and supplemented with narrative backstory by Sarah and Iram.

Before each group of children began the game, they read about the life of Ahmed, a fictional Syrian refugee child newly arrived in New York, and his struggles to acclimate. The narrative corresponded to six in-game levels, each detailing a different struggle facing Ahmed: “Arriving in New York,” “Finding Housing,” “Navigating the City,” “Doing Well in School,” “Dealing with Bullying and Discrimination,” and “Dealing with Physical and Mental Health.” The gameplay consisted of “Flappy Bird”-style obstacle avoidance, with different thematic obstacles, or “stressors,” for each level. Instead of “Health,” the player has a “Coping Ability” meter, which lowers as he collides with stressors in each level.

Setting up Ahmed’s narrative before playing the game allowed the children to contextualize the game in terms of the narrative. They demonstrated that they were able to retain this context while “remixing” – or changing – the game. One child, when prompted to add a “power-up,” chose to make his own instead of using the pre-made power-up that was already inserted into the game. The power-up took the form of a child sprite floating along the screen. When touched by the player sprite, it gave the player a limited “invulnerability,” which the remixing child articulated in the context of the game’s story as “making a friend who makes it easier to cope with stressors.” The fact that he was able to link a power-up to the story’s narrative shows that his remixing efforts were more than just technical. Similarly, another child found that the player was able to effectively cheat by repeatedly mashing the “jump” button to hide in the top corner of the screen, a spot where no obstacle could hit him. He rectified this by adding a single block to the game’s code scripts – the “If on Edge, Bounce” block – and explained the change to gameplay in the context of the story, saying that “the player can’t hide from his stressors, but has to confront them head-on instead.”

By the end of the day, the kids developed their understanding of an important contemporary sociopolitical issue and how to contextualize game design within a story. And isn’t that what DLL is all about? 😉

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