Girls develop games, confidence at IU’s first-ever GirlPowered camp

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Maddie Pasquale experiences a virtual reality game during IU’s GirlPowered camp. | Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Post by IU Communications colleague Mary Keck:

Laura Wise, GirlPowered camp counselor and IU student, looked over 13-year-old Haley Shelburne’s shoulder at a computer screen.

Haley was clicking her mouse, and her face was lit by a screen featuring the character she created for a visual novel.

“It’s a thief and a magician working together,” Haley told Wise.

Haley was among seven girls in a computer lab. Every few minutes, the sound of giggles rose above the noisy clicks of their fingers against their keyboards.

“Want to try out my game?” Maddie Pasquale, 14, asked Wise.

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Camp counselor Laura Wise works with campers to create their own video game. | Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

When Wise sat down to play Maddie’s game, her character raced through a wooded landscape, carefully traversed over a lava pit and navigated a maze of stone walls.

Maddie wants to be a story designer for Nintendo of America Inc. one day, and Haley recently discovered she’s into computer coding and thinks she might attend IU after high school.

They both participated in IU’s first-ever GirlPowered camp, a game development camp organized by The Media School. While IU offered its first game development camp for kids ages 13 to 17 in 2013, this year is the first time a similar camp has been available to girls only.

The Media School started the camp exclusively for girls this year because since 2013, very few girls have enrolled in the camp even though the number of participants has been on the rise each year.

While camp founder Chabane Maidi appreciated the program’s increased number of participants each year, he felt the lack of diversity was a problem. The camp’s female-to-male ratios were strikingly similar to those within the gaming industry, where men outnumber women.

“We decided we wanted to combat this trend,” Maidi said.

Part of the camp’s purpose is to get youngsters interested in gaming as a potential area of study or career path. To give girls the opportunity to get into the gaming field and encourage them to consider careers in game design and development, the Media School introduced its first girls-only camp this summer.

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Wise looks over one of the games created by a camper. | Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

For Haley and Maddie, attending a game development camp exclusively for girls has been a positive experience, and they’ve made some good friends.

“I think it’s pretty cool being around just girls because usually gaming is such a male-dominated field. I think it’s interesting to see other girls interested in it, and it’s empowering,” Haley said.

“I didn’t want to hang out with the boys because sometimes they get kind of obnoxious after a while,” Maddie said. “I thought if I did the GirlPowered camp, I’d make a lot more friends there because there might be more girls that have stuff in common with me.”

Throughout the camp, the girls created their own 2-D and 3-D games, told stories and designed original worlds and characters. They learned how to use a variety of online programs and took a crack at coding. They also conversed via webcam with game designer Kim Swift, who helped create the popular “Portal” game. On their last day of camp, the girls donned headsets, covering their eyes and immersing them in a virtual-reality world where they could shoot arrows at a target or scratch a dog at their feet.

“It’s been really fun to watch them progress and learn the different tools,” said Juliet Roberts, the camp’s assistant coordinator and an IU graduate. “It’s always so exciting to see girls sitting in front of the computer and doing technological activities.”

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Camper Rhianna Gides shares a smile as she works on a video game. | Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Roberts and Wise both majored in English and appreciate the story-telling elements of game development. They would have liked to attend a camp like GirlPowered as kids.

“If I had this as a kid, I think I would have known this as a future path a lot sooner on and would have taken classes early on,” said Wise, who has taken game development courses at IU and intends to pursue story development in the gaming industry. “I really hope I can be a role model. One thing that the video game industry needs is female role models for girls who want to be video game developers, so they can have something to look forward to or an image of what their future can be.”

Maddie’s already thinking far ahead about what she might do with the knowledge she’s gained from GirlPowered camp.

“I really hope that one day the games that I might make might affect children as well and make them want to be game designers,” she said.

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