By Scott Aronowitz
At an "Educate to Innovate" campaign event Thursday at the White House, President Barack Obama launched the National STEM Video Game Challenge, a nationwide competition that seeks to encourage student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through their affinity for playing and creating video games.
The two-pronged competition offers both Developer Prize and Youth Prize categories. The latter category calls upon students in grades 5 through 8 to design their own original video games that will help educate their peers in various STEM topics. In the process, the game designers will also do their own research to obtain knowledge of such topics sufficient to instruct others. Open to students at any public, private, or home school in the United States, the category places special emphasis on students in underserved urban and rural communities. The total prize pool is valued at $50,000, and includes cash prizes, computers, educational and game development software, books, and other related technology tools.
The Developer Prize category is open to professional developers, as well as college students interested in STEM topics and video game development. The category challenges developers and to create original games for children in grades pre-K through 4 that are fun and innovative while teaching concepts and rudiments of key STEM subjects and fostering players' interest in these subjects. The grand prize in the category is $50,000, with additional awards of $25,000 each to the top collegiate developer and the top entry for reaching underserved communities.
President Obama praised the organizations presenting the challenge for taking the necessary steps toward advancing America's global STEM leadership. "Our success as a nation," said the president, "depends on strengthening America's role as the world's engine of discovery and innovation."
The Challenge is being conducted by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit research center dedicated to innovation in education through the use of digital media, and E-Line Media, a publisher of video games and graphic literature focused on learning and social consciousness. The primary sponsors are the AMD Foundation, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and Microsoft, working with several outreach partners including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
"Children of all ages are immersed in technology--today's kids spend as much time with digital media as they do in school. With the need to make learning both more engaging and productive we need some real game changers," said Michael Levine, executive director of the Cooney Center.
A spokesperson for the Challenge cited research indicating that both creating and playing video games contributes to the development in youth of critical thinking, problem solving, and design skills and creativity. In addition, games specifically geared towards STEM education not only foster interest in the topic being taught, but also motivate the pursuit of related knowledge and even STEM careers.
"Video game development is an exceptional learning experience for youth because it's rooted in something they are already passionate about and allows learning to happen naturally," said Allyson Peerman, corporate vice president of AMD public affairs and president of the AMD Foundation.