How a summer program is teaching high school girls to build video games - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Jul. 27, 2016 12:59 pm

How a summer program is teaching high school girls to build video games

At Art x Code at Pioneer Works, game development is shrinking tech's gender gap.

Art x Code participants hard at work.

(Courtesy photo)

Correction: The A button is the jump button in Super Mario Bros., not the B button, as was previously reported. We regret the error. (7/27/16, 2:57 p.m.)
The larger point of Art x Code is to lower the barriers to entry for getting girls into the tech world.

It’s not that hard once you know the basics, says David Sheinkopf, and if you can get kids involved and interested, even for just a week during the summer in a massive art space in Red Hook, then they’ll have at least gotten over that barrier.

Sheinkopf is the organizer of Art x Code, a weeklong program for eight high school girls from New York City schools. The program is a joint effort between Google’s Made with Code initiative and the art space Pioneer Works, which is where the program is held. During the week, the girls will learn about game design, generative code, Unity and virtual reality. The all-day classes are taught by people working in the game design world in Brooklyn: Cassie Tarakajian (who we’ve profiled), NYU ITP fellow Ziv Schneider and Katherine Ortiz, of the Red Hook Initiative.

“There are so many tools and it’s so easy, because kids are all computer literate,” Sheinkopf explained in an interview. “Making it with the goal being that they don’t relate to their phone or computer as a consumer, that’s a major goal for me. That’s empowering.”

On Monday the girls got an intro to game design by playing a game in real life. Split into two teams, one member dressed in a zorb, an inflated plastic bubble you may have seen at festivals or fairs which protect people if they fall or bump into a wall, and were blindfolded. The other members of the team set them up at the starting line and pointed them toward the finish line — a strip of bubble wrap a few dozen feet away. Pioneer works is between art shows, and the kids were able to use the full expanse of the gallery space.

At Art x Code, you play the games before you design them.

At Art x Code, you play the games before you design them. (Courtesy image)

“Mario doesn’t know where he’s going,” Sheinkopf explained. “He just knows if you hit forward he goes and if you push A he’s jumping. We tried to emulate that in real life by putting these kids in the zorbs and told the kids to orient them and then they run.”

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Then the kids went upstairs into the Pioneer Works workspace and learned how to make the exact same game, but digitally.

Pioneer Works is an arts space and organization for experimental or tech-oriented art. One of its current fellows is Sam Lavigne, whose work on sales and sleep we covered last week. Google’s Made with Code is an organization dedicated to increasing the number of girls who study computer science. It funds and organizes projects towards that aim.

“They’re 14 so their neuroplasticity is off the chain,” Sheinkopf said. “You turn around and one kid’s got a psychedelic background and it was the kind of thing where it’s like, ‘Whoa, we didn’t teach them at all how to do this.’ By the end of today [Tuesday] we have 10 kids in there and they all have some form of a game with a variable and a character and, like, real aspects of game programming.”

The girls come with the recommendation of a few civic organizations. A few are from the Red Hook Initiative, a few from the group Black Girls Rock, and a few who had been interested in other, similar programs. Most of the girls are entering ninth grade in the fall, the rest are plus or minus a year.

“I think that girls, particularly, have been left out of that [coding] conversation and there’s a major gender gap,” Sheinkopf said. “The amount of socioeconomic empowerment you have if you understand how to relate to a computer is one of the most valuable things you can have today.”

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Organizations: Pioneer Works, Google
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