Funding, Grants & Awards

Middle and High School Students Awarded for National STEM Video Game Challenge

The 2017 National STEM Video Game Challenge has selected 23 students to receive $1,000 each for their orginal video games and design concepts.

The competition — launched in 2010 as part of the White House’s Educate to Innovate campaign — aims to boost student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through game design, while promoting collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving. Students gain first-hand experience using game developer engines like GameMaker, Gamestar Mechanic, Scratch and Unity, to name a few. According to the challenge homepage, “students have designed and submitted nearly 20,000 original games and game design documents over six competition cycles.”

A team of four Washington, D.C. high school students, for example, placed this year as a top “high school open platform team” for a game about teen suicide designed to introduce empathy to other students. The single player adventure, Intervene, was developed with Roblox, a platform that allows creators to build immersive experiences. The winners — Rusuban, Omegadarx, Himegimichan and Zygmeyer —  developed an experience grounded in its own world, with an original soundtrack and art, according to the Roblox blog.

For Intervene, players jump into the role of a character who encounters a figure in the afterlife. “The character is then given an opportunity to redeem himself by overcoming various trials and tribulations from the perspective of a tribesman in the distant past,” the Roblox blog explained. “It’s a journey of self-realization and it’s an experience the developers hope will help players reflect on why life is worth living.”

Image: YouTube.

Another female middle school student from Tehachapi, CA tapped the Adventure Game Studio, an open source developer tool, to design her mystery and escape game called Twisted Petals.

Winners that placed in the middle school (grades 5 to 8) track are:

  • “Artificial” by Kyle Roke (Foxboro, MA);
  • “Twisted Petal” by Saida Woolf (Tehachapi, CA);
  • “Mainframe” by Lucas Armand (Malvern, PA) and Shrey Pandya (Exton, PA);
  • “The Digestive System” by Zoe Plunkett (Milwaukee, WI);
  • “The Trappist Incident” by Sam Raymond (Midlothian, VA);
  • “STEM Obstacle Course” by Himani Chonkar (Waukesha, WI); and
  • “The Hunger Game” by Ruth Elahi (Vineland, NJ), Hannah Tamagni (Vineland, NJ) and Liakadja Whitesell (Vineland, NJ).

The high school winners (grades 9 to 12) are:

  • “The Calculus Test” by Connor Shugg ( Apex, NC);
  • “Extinction” by Mason Felton (Ripon, WI);
  • “Keeper” by Jude Morey (Beech Grove, IN);
  • “Intervene” by Owen Cain (Washington, DC), Doanna Nguyen (Washington, DC),  Gabriel Stevanus (Washington, DC) and Tochi Ukegbu (Washington, DC);
  • “The Pyramid” by John Korhel (Parker, CO), Alex Lawrence (Parker, CO) and John Ripple (Parker, CO);
  • “Green Hero” by Geneva Heyward (Corona, NY);
  • “Ultra Fishing” by James Nguyen (Portland, OR); and
  • “Cyber Champion” by Pranav Patil (San Diego, CA).

In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, winners get a lifetime subscription to use the premium version of Gamestar Mechanic. They also have access to consult with game industry professionals for guidance on how to further their game design, engineering or other STEM skills. Finally, winners will be recognized at the Games for Change Festival, taking place July 31 to Aug. 2 in New York, NY.

The vision for former President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign was to improve the nation’s ranking in STEM literacy compared to other countries and increase the number of graduates with 21st century skills. Many of the students who participated in the 2017 National STEM Video Game Challenge expressed wanting to pursue a career in the STEM field.

The nonprofit organization Sesame Workshop, E-Line Media, Entertainment Software and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center help run the challenge. The latter, an independent research and innovation lab focused on digital learning, profiled each of the winning teams on its blog. Winners can also be seen in the video below.

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