Gaming / Philadelphia / Youth

Video games are coming to the Cira Centre — this time, designed by teens

Following record-breaking displays of years past, Drexel professor Frank Lee's Entrepreneurial Game Studio invited local middle schoolers to create original games for play on the skyscraper.

Middle school students used teaching tools and a web-based simulator to design and test their games. (Courtesy photo)
On June 10, Drexel University will be unveiling its newest green space, Drexel Square, and to celebrate, the school is holding an event with food, music and — naturally — a skyscraper-sized LED screen with games designed by area middle schoolers.

The space is the first completed part of the Schuylkill Yards, a 14-acre development project from Brandywine Realty Trust (more on that here). Located at the corner of 30th and Market streets, the event will feature a public showcase of the student’s games on the 29-story Cira Centre building. Attendees can enter a drawing for a chance to play the games.

The games were developed by local students from the Benjamin B. Comegys School, The Baldwin School and Upper Merion Area Middle School in collaboration with Drexel’s game development nonprofit, Entrepreneurial Game Studio (ESG).

After winning a $100,000 grant from Intel in 2015, founding director of the studio and professor Frank Lee created the program to include more women and minorities in the gaming industry. Lee said he wanted to increase representation while creating more unique and creative games.

“As someone who cares about and is producing interesting and wonderful students of color and women, as well, I want them to go into the industry,” he said. “That’s as an academic. But the personal, selfish reason is I just want more interesting games.”

With additional funding from Intel, the game studio held a semester of workshops for teachers in the fall of 2017 with EGS research associate Matthew Duvall to learn Python before teaching it to the students. In the spring of 2018, the teachers took their skills back to the students to create the games, with the help of an instructional video series created by EGS. Students could also test their handiwork on a simulator model.

Students at Russell Byers Charter and Girls Who Code Bucks County also participated in the program but didn’t finish their games ahead of showtime.

This is the third time Lee will be coordinating live games on the Cira Centre: Earlier initiatives broke Guinness World Records during Philly Tech Week for the largest architectural video game display with Pong and Tetris in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

This time, Lee wanted to include original games instead of preexisting ones, so the schools created a mix of original concept and “second cousins” of classic arcade games for the event. They include:

  • Fill — Designed by students at Benjamin B. Comegys School
  • Falling — Designed by students at The Baldwin School
  • Dot Man — Designed by students at Upper Merion Area Middle School
  • Invasion of the Dots — Designed by students at Upper Merion Area Middle School
  • Caterpede — Designed by students at Upper Merion Area Middle School

Each student group got the chance to present their game and play others at an event last summer, where Lee announced that the students would get an additional chance to play the games on the Cira Centre.

After the event, Lee said that he hopes to continue this program in the future and even expand it nationally.

“Ideally, the goal will be that we will run this as an annual contest as a first step, and if that really works well then [we’ll continue] throughout the U.S.,” Lee said.

Companies: Drexel University

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