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Active Video Game Jam at Dell Children’s Hospital

Active Video Game Jam at Dell Children’s Hospital

I collaborated with Dell Children’s Hospital this week and organized a three-day video game and interface design workshop for kids in their “Healthy Living Happy Living" program. The program,  lead by pediatrician Dr. Stephen Pont, uses educational programs and games to fight childhood obesity. Many of the participating children love video games, and so we decided to teach them how to create their own video games. Instead of games played by sitting on the couch, these games had to use physical activity like running, jumping, slapping, or high-fiving as a part of the game-play. 

The workshop occurred over three days: two days of making, one day of showcasing to the rest of the hospital. The participating kids designed and built interactive interfaces using a Makey-Makey and duct tape, foil, Play-Doh, and many other easy-to-find conductive materials.  

We rapidly trained the kids in the Scratch programming language. Scratch is a graphical programming language first developed in 2006 by the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarten Group. Instead of lines of code, the interface uses blocks that snap together like Legos.

 Blocks of code from the Scratch programming interface. 

Blocks of code from the Scratch programming interface. 

Scratch is a web-based platform, and Scratch users share their codes through the website. This provides a huge resource of readily hackable software for new coders. These shared programs were core to our training. 

 Scratch hosts projects online for learners to access and remix into their own projects.

Scratch hosts projects online for learners to access and remix into their own projects.

On the first day, the participants broke up into groups comprising four or five kids and one mentor. Each group was given tiny incremental explorations using Scratch cards. The cards include instructions for programming things like “change color,” “move to a beat,” and “follow the mouse.” Each group grabbed a card, had ten minutes to program the action, and then switched. The groups explored like this until they’d gone through every card.

 Scratch cards  are downloadable here .

Scratch cards are downloadable here.

Next, we asked the kids to “Hack this game.” We gave each group the same game, found from the public Scratch collection, and had them each hack it to work with one simple physical action using the Makey Makey. Many of these hacked games were the seeds of the final projects.

The kids invented and built their games during the second day. We encouraged them to find an existing game and hack that into a physical interaction, but they were also free to create something brand new. We provided cardboard, aluminum foil, duct tape, and a wide range of conductive objects for them to use in their designs.

One group made a game that relies on high-fives to control a character’s jump.  Each high-five closed a circuit, making an avatar jump on the screen.

 Playing a game that uses high-fives as a control switch.

Playing a game that uses high-fives as a control switch.

Another team designed a racing game for two players. The players each moved a car around a racetrack by placing their feet on one of four homemade conductive surfaces, each corresponding to up, down, left or right.

 Students learned to spread healthy messages and healthy behaviors while designing the games. (Photo: Dell Children’s Medical Center)

Students learned to spread healthy messages and healthy behaviors while designing the games. (Photo: Dell Children’s Medical Center)

This project taught me a lot about the value of rapid iteration as a tool for learning.

 Student volunteers and mentors, including Dr. Stephen Pont and me, at the Dell Children's Hospital Active Game Jam. (Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Medical Center)

Student volunteers and mentors, including Dr. Stephen Pont and me, at the Dell Children's Hospital Active Game Jam. (Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Medical Center)

Huge thanks to our amazing participants, Dr Pont for making this experiment possible, and to our mentos: David Conover, STEAM Video Game Design Instructor at Connally High School; Casey Enyeart, a UT School of Public Health grad student; and Adrian Lopez-Mobilia, an independent programmer and game designer.

Write up from Dell Children's Hospital is here. Student volunteer Lyon Abido wrote about his experience on the Hackidemia blog.

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