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Groundswell Game Challenge

Game design as a youth and community collaboration tool to power social change

Groundswell used support from the Hive Digital Media and Learning Fund to engage youth participants in the design and creation of a digital game prototype. The game design was tied to Groundswell’s merit-based achievement system, which provides opportunities for youth to demonstrate competency in a set of core skill-building areas: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and compassion. From November 2014 to January 2015, a select group of young people participating in Groundswell’s art-making programs were recruited to begin the process by conceptualizing digital games. Four achievement “pins” were defined to recognize outcomes for the project—a pin represents a point in a student’s progress towards mastery in a specific area.

Of the four game ideas resulting from this initial process, one was selected to be prototyped and piloted for use by over 800 Groundswell youth participants. In addition to the 17 youth that formed the core team, approximately 130 Groundswell youth participated in the development of the game through a series of internal and public Game Jams.

Project Implementation and Discovery

Youth participants started by conceptualizing digital game applications for Groundswell’s first level of achievements—the “Platform One Pins”—covering topics in the History of Public Art, Communication, Visual Literacy, and Accountability. This began with a discussion of how a game might be integrated into the achievement process. Read more about Groundswell’s model for collective impact.

Participants then began learning the principles of game design through a series of presentations. Juan Rubio, Associate Director of Online Leadership at Global Kids, led a session on these key principles,  leading into a group brainstorming process. Youth were asked to decide on the basic characteristics of the game, including story, space, mechanics, components, rules, and goals.

Different game platforms were introduced (Grow-A-Game, Twine, and Found Object), representing alternate approaches to implementing game design principles. Mr. Rubio provided insight into how each of these platforms have been recreated (or remixed) to accommodate different learning outcomes. The team spent time practicing and demonstrating each platform.

A Hive-organized Mobile Game Jam (featuring (MOUSE, Global Kids, CoderDojoNYC, and Eyebeam) introduced youth to examples of creative game design implementation and digital game usage across a diverse group of organizations.A series of “mini” Game Jam sessions then included youth involved in Groundswell’s broader afterschool programming. Over the course of a week, these larger audiences of young people also explored the principles of game design with core project participants. Groups were then tasked with creating a game to reflect a pin they had been assigned.

Game ideas were also crowdsourced from Groundswell’s internal network, through social media, and the broader Hive NYC network. A gaming concept corresponding to each of the four Platform One Pins was then finalized for presentation to Groundswell’s technology partner, The Line Between. Youth participants then explored how the game ideas would translate digitally, with an introduction to coding. The youth team then chose a game to serve as the initial prototype. Over the following few weeks, The Line Between created the prototype, with ongoing, iterative input and feedback from youth.

Throughout the project, youth facilitated several Game Jams in different environments, including Groundswell’s organizational retreat, holiday party, and a station run at a January Game Jam event hosted at the Museum of the Moving Image.

The game "break" feature Introduces basic coding concepts to players.

The game “break” feature introduces basic coding concepts as part of game play.

Organizational Impact

This program supported learning in all of Groundswell’s four core competency areas—the “Four Cs” of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and compassion—while also offering youth the opportunity to expand their use of the tools into the digital realm. These key skills equip youth with the ability to use creative techniques and methods to communicate, to work effectively with others to achieve shared goals, to solve problems and make informed decisions with an awareness of the situations of others. This project represented the first step in the digital reinterpretation of Scaffold Up!, Groundswell’s model for collaboratively working with youth and communities to create public art as a tool for social change. Once the game is piloted, it will be utilized by all of Groundswell’s youth participants as a means of demonstrating a visual literacy proficiency and recognizing the ability to create and identify symbols in art. Through this project, Groundswell has become even more aware of the importance of integrating a digital learning experiences and web literacy into core art-making programs in order to engage youth and community partners.

Challenges and Resolutions

Groundswell is eager to continue applying the existing model in digital contexts to leverage technology tools and skills. However, as with any new initiative, the project highlighted challenges to address and lessons to be learned. Given the limited time frame, it proved difficult to recruit Platform Three youth participants to join the core team, particularly during the busy holiday season. To address this, the opportunity was expanded to include Platform Two youth as well. With the success of this program, Groundswell is now better prepared to articulate this approach to all stakeholders, including youth participants, to generate excitement about the opportunity and engage more youth.

Meaningful stakeholder feedback on the game was acquired during a playtest at Groundswell’s annual retreat. The team framed Scaffold Up! for stakeholders and presented the idea for the Visual Literacy game app. Questions and comments from the audience created an opportunity to introduce other community members to the app and hear their perspectives. One of the more challenging comments remarked that the app was more of a tool than a game. This reflected a need for a more concerted effort to teach web and digital literacy. This feedback also led to refinements to the prototype and an effort to incorporate more intuitively game-like components.

Target Audience

The initial intensive game design process engaged 17 core youth, with approximately 130 more participating in the conceptualization period and hundreds of others through the follow-up game jams and playtesting.

Groundswell serves 800 NYC youth annually, aged 14–21, who are under-served (by cultural/youth development programs), marginalized (due to court-involved, educational, or foster care status), and/or economically-disadvantaged.


Lead Organization:

Partner Organizations:
Global Kids , The Line Between

Project Goal:
Leverage game design to enrich youth learning, enabling participants to create and connect, on the ground and on the web

Project Tags:
Arts, Games & Game Design, STEM, Youth Development & Leadership

Project Portfolio