In a room filled with about 30 middle-schoolers, as well as a handful of designers, game developers, and marketers, a student raises her hand and asks, “What inspired you to make a game?”
“Well,” responded Chaim Gingold, the VP of Design at Hack, “we were actually just asked to come up with the best way to teach kids how to code and, as we were working on it, creating a (game) was the most natural solution.”
The young woman is participating in an after-school program through Techbridge Girls, a 501c3 nonprofit that designs and delivers the best-in-class STEM programs to K-12 girls from under-resourced communities. Today, the Hack team is having this group kick the tires on the latest version of the Hack Computer before it’s available to the public.
The students started with a warm-up game where they role-played as computers and programmers to prime them for playing with the Hack computer. Then the students got into small groups, opened their laptops and were off to the races.
This is when the room really lit up. The Hack experience takes users through progressively difficult and often unexpected challenges. But unlike a standard computer game, the goal is not necessarily to progress levels as rapidly as possible but rather to engage with the environment and learn the skills needed to change it, manipulate it, and make it their own. Hack was designed with the mentality that the best way to learn something is through concrete application and not just theoretical comprehension.
This group did just that. Tinkering and testing the boundaries of the experience, when one game became nearly impossible, a new character would come on screen to prompt them to try something unexpected, to take a new risk. The room was filled with shouts of, “Oh, there we go!” or “Now we have to solve this,” and of course the occasional, “Oh no, it died.”
After about 90 minutes of gameplay, the laptops were set aside and everyone took some time to talk about their experience.
Some of the responses were exciting, “It was fun and made me want to solve all kinds of problems.”
Some were inspiring, “If I could learn how to do this, I would build an online store where people could sell their own clothes.”
And some were seriously impressive, “I think that achieving an accumulation of little goals over time in a game like this could help build a mindset of confidence.”
The experience proved to be truly eye-opening for the team, who was grateful to gather invaluable feedback from the group in a natural, educational environment.
One of the Hack’s big philosophical inspirations is the work of the author, computer scientist, and educator, Seymour Papert. In his book Mindstorms, he stated that educators need to be more like anthropologists, “they must be sensitive to what is happening in the surrounding culture and use dynamic cultural trends as a medium to carry their educational interventions.”
Obviously, this struck a chord with the Hack team and, fortunately, they were lucky enough to have a bright group of eager young STEM enthusiasts to help them really see how their work holds up.
Learn more about Techbridge Girls here.