Starting September 17, teens in grades 7 through 12 can submit their video game designs to the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Today, however, we’re celebrating Video Game Day! Alliance staffer and avid gamer Scott Larner shares his thoughts on the importance of gaming in the following post. We hope it inspires you to submit your game!

On my sixth birthday a heavy thud on my bed woke me.  My dad was standing in my room smiling and a brand new, unopened Nintendo rested by my feet. I spent the day shooting ducks and jumping on mushrooms, and I have been playing and enjoying video games ever since.

Video Games have had a long, strange journey to prominence in our culture. Once upon a time, the common conception of a video game player was a lonely dude sitting in a dark room by himself; these days it impossible to take a fifteen-minute subway ride without seeing a kid playing a racing game on his PSP, a businessman tending to a virtual farm on his iPad, and a young lady playing word games with friends on a smart phone. Video games have become a ubiquitous and integral part of our lives, and as they continue to grow in popularity, we continue to expand what we expect of the media and how we use it in our lives.

It has been a tremendous pleasure to work with my colleagues at The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards to expand the role of our Video Game Design category over the last three years. The talent and creativity that we find in students creating games is astounding. I had the opportunity to sit in on a Video Game Design workshop for teenagers hosted by our partners at E-Line Media. Our host, Scott, started the session by pulling out little plastic baggies filled with paper clips, plastic cups, rubber bands and a host of other odds-and-ends, and asked that the assembled teams create an “analog” game out of the components. It was a lot of fun to see the designs the kids came up with: dexterity games, press-your-luck strategy games, roll-and-move adventure games.

Seeing the gaming experience extrapolated and broken down to these bare elements  helped me realize an important fact about Video Games: they are ultimately about critical thinking and problem solving. Each game is a puzzle that challenges the player to think in a new way and to come up with solutions to problems on the fly.  When the students transitioned from their knick-knacks to their computers and fired up the Gamestar Mechanic application you could feel the buzz in the room. Their teen brains went into overdrive trying to come up with challenges and obstacles that would make their game designs both challenging and fun.

Fantasy and sports may always be central themes in video games, but here’s the insidious secret: kids (and grown men like myself) don’t come back over and over again for the sensationalist elements; we come back because of the rush we get in solving the puzzle.  Video Games reward us, immediately and enthusiastically, for “getting the answer right.” This method can and should be applied to mathematics, English literature, science, and every school subject under the sun.  Video games can deliver information to students and engage them in critical thinking, all while using a language in which they are fluent.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards encourages you to challenge the teen gamers you know to take the next step and start learning about how their video games are made.  As with art and writing, understanding the techniques that makes video game work can be a fascinating as playing—and it’s certainly more creative.  We can’t wait to see the new and innovative Video Game designs we receive—and I can’t wait to play them.

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