Young game developers honored at 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge

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WASHINGTON — A competition that gives middle- and high-school students a taste of what it takes to develop educational video games awarded more than $80,000 in prizes to top contestants in the second annual STEM Video Game Challenge.

In a crowded auditorium full of proud parents and jubilant children, a series of distinguished speakers congratulated winners during the May 21 awards ceremony and spoke about their personal connections to video games and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

Youth winners await their turn on stage.

“Everybody should be proud of these young people,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who serves on the “E-Tech Caucus” in Congress, which advocates for educational software. “I also think all of these young people are going to end up with really good jobs.”

The competition was designed to interest students in STEM education through video gaming. Last year’s inaugural competition drew roughly 600 entries. This year saw a sixfold increase, with over 3,700 entries from across the country.

This video explains the genesis and inspiration for many of the winners, including:

  • Michael Feng, a high-schooler from Redwood City, Calif., who designed “Tales of Encephalia.” The game’s storyline presents scientific concepts to players while they investigate mysterious phenomenon, and topped two different categories; and 
  • Shashenk Mahesh, a middle-schooler from Gibsonton, Fla., who designed “Mission 17639: Planetcorp,” which challenges players to explore the solar system. Its playing levels incorporate real planetary characteristics. Mahesh tapped his younger brother as a test player.

A complete list of the 28 middle school and high school winners, as well as videos of the award-winning games, are available here.

Zachary Levi, star of the NBC show Chuck, served as a guest judge for this year’s challenge. In a video message to contestants, Levi declared his abiding love for video games and urged the crowd at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to “viva la nerd-volution.”

The competition recognized additional winners in collegiate and educator categories. Details about those games can be seen here.

“Our overall goal is to grow the ecosystem of youth video game design with better tools, curriculum, and ideas,” said Alan Gershenfeld, president and founder of E-Line Media, a main organizer of the challenge. “I think that the games of these winners speak for themselves.”

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is E-Line’s partner in organizing the STEM Challenge. Sponsors include the Entertainment Software Association, AMD Foundation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS KIDS Ready To Learn Initiative.

The winners of the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge.

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