ETC at the White House Educational Game Jam

Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) was a big part of the White House Educational Game Jam this past weekend. The Jam was sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Education, and kicked off early in the morning on September 6, 2014 in the creative offices of Learning Objects, an education technology company that works with Carnegie Learning. As the event started, Sabrina Culyba (ETC Alum 2005, and Sr. Game Designer at Schell Games) was thanked for sharing tips and tricks from her years coordinating the Pittsburgh Global Game Jam, and they also shared a video from Kyle Gabler (ETC Alum 2005) from the very first Global Game Jam. Mark Deloura, a Sr Advisor at the OSTP, set the stage with a call from President Obama to create educational resources as engaging as the best video games.

Throughout the weekend, over 100 people on 23 teams from all over the world jammed to create educational games with the help of local teachers and student playtesters.  A group of K-12 teachers provided educational topics and challenges which they wished they had games to help teach and explore. These served as inspiration and direction for the game jammers. The teachers were available throughout the weekend to answer questions and share input on game ideas. And on Sunday, several dozen students from K-12 visited in order to playtest and give feedback.

There were AAA game companies (like Sony, Ubisoft-Red Storm and Disney), indie game studios (like Rovio, Playmatics and Magic Leap), educational game companies (like Filament, Glasslab, 1st Playable and Brainpop) as well as teams from MIT, American University, UNC, Parsons, NYU, UM-Baltimore, Pearsons and the Smithsonian.  The ETC student team was Alex Hu, David Liu and Mac Lotze.  Sony’s team was actually all ETC alums from their new Pixelopus studio (Nagarjuna Harisena (2013), Ashwin Kumar (2013), Jing Li (2013), Jitesh Mulchandani (2012), Haewon Nam (2012), and Eric Zhang (2013)). Rachel Berkowitz (ETC 2011) was on the Filament team, and the Disney team had Blade Olsen, who attended ETC’s first National High School Game Academy in 2005. Dave Culyba, ETC Special Faculty, Sabrina and ETC Director Drew Davidson were on site for the weekend to provide the teams with educational guidance and game design advice.

On Monday, the jam culminated with presentations and live demos in the Indian Treaty room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the West Wing, attended by Sr. White House officials and members from OSTP, DOE, DOD, NASA, ESA and more. There was a wide variety of games and topics, from evolution and ecology, to the electoral collage and debate, to health and nutrition and scarcity of resources and social emotional learning. The ETC team created a game where players use algebraic piecewise functions to create the walls of a snowfort to protect yourself during a snowball fight.  You can see videos of the games at the OSTP YouTube page.

On the first day, someone asked how a team would win, and during his closing remarks, Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the DOE, congratulated everyone around the importance of helping make the first White House Educational Game Jam a success, and followed with a challenge by noting that to win we need to move forward from here and help provide kids with learning experiences that are as compelling as games. Overall, it was an inspiring event, showcasing the immersive power of games, while also serving as a meaningful start to better leveraging this power to help kids and students get more engaged in their learning.

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