Monthly Archives: July 2014

Raul-car

If your child asks you permission to build a life size lego car so he can drive it, say yes.

We often forget that each individual is the center of his own world, a world with its own magnetic field, so naturally everybody has a compass that points in a different direction – a different North.

I had a fairly typical childhood and typical parents in a not-so-typical place: Transylvania, Romania; better known for horror stories & mythical creatures than high tech & entrepreneurs. That wasn’t much of a problem though, because from a very young age (as far back as I can remember, really) my imagination and curiosity was set ablaze by the world around me to the despair of my parents that were always coming home to me smashing up something to see what’s inside  – what they didn’t realize is that it was more than play, it was an experiment in progress and lucky for me after getting a bit pissed off about it (“We’re never buying new toys ever again!”) they would leave me alone with the  “spoils of war” and let the experiment run it’s course.

Raul-car

By my teens I’d already clocked years of experience hacking things apart and putting them back together, with the size & scope of my projects scaling up. That’s when I came up with a crazy idea: a mini-space program that would put a little toy shuttle into outer space! The only problem was the price tag: $1000, which is about 3 months salary in my country, so I started looking elsewhere. Two-hundred or so knocks on the door, somebody said yes, an Australian entrepreneur. I don’t think in any pre-internet scenario you could have conceived that a teenager from Romania and an entrepreneur from Australia would agree to my crazy plans and a Romanian-Australian JV was born that ended a month later in outer space.

Launch a JV to put something into outer space, a JV that ended a month later with a smashing success. Although worried about why the stranger from Australia is sending their child money over the internet, my parents let it happen, they trusted my judgment and took a step back. I’m extremely grateful for that. That’s when I realized, I wasn’t just some kid in a shed in Romania and the whole world wanted to know what was going on – I was skipping classes in high school to talk to the BBC, it all seemed crazy to me. Now you might think that I had a source of support for doing all these things, the truth is – there wasn’t one, it came from within, it always comes from within, nothing grows in the land where there is no seed, no matter how much you try and nurture it.

School vs. Education – in my country almost everyone goes to college, the one’s that don’t serve you food or swipe the floors being viewed as instant failures so it’s no surprise that mom & dad totally freaked out when I dropped the not-going-to-college bombshell, for about 3 months they pleeded with me to do go, telling I won’t have a bright future and so on, they couldn’t see beyond social convention, beyond the obvious but my compas was pointing North and the ship was on course, my course with strong winds blowing from stern and I kept that it even when the seas were rough and the going was though, working my way up to a few world firsts and now on track to becoming one of those silicon Valley zillionaires building a better world.

In most cases the skills & activities of your child and their future use lie beyond the line of sight in the realm of non-obvious, while parents mostly seek and operate on vanity metrics where it’s the diploma from english class or that macaroni painting you have on your fridge, chances are you use it to compare & measure, something you proudly share with all your parent friends: “look what Johnny did! Isn’t he smart?” Vicariously living through your child by making it a measure of self-worth though the stuff that really matters is what happens when nobody is looking, the things you can’t quantify or frame, or brag about to your friends,  the little experiments your kid runs each day, that must not be interrupted or discouraged, the sum of failures that leads to success.

All I can say to parents out there is this: let the ship follow its course so if at some point your kid comes to you and says he will build a car out of lego so he can drive it, don’t dismiss it – it might be genius!

Raul

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Raul Oaida is the 20-year old CTO of the Super Awesome Micro Project. SAMP is a car made of Lego, that drives, has an engine made from Lego, which runs on air. Raul worked on this brainchild with a partner, Steve Sammartino, who he met on the internet.

Discover Your Child's Strengths

ASaKid4

6 outdoor games from our childhoods that are still fun… and free! [+GIVEAWAY]

Hate reading meaningful musings about kids these days? Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway.

When I was a kid, we did not have the Internet. I think it may have existed, but was not yet overcharging families nationwide for 10 mbps. Back then, living on a cul-de-sac (we called it “the circle”), our house was the place to be. The neighborhood kids rode their bikes with their sibling or friend standing on the pegs up the street to our house, where the front lawn was littered with bikes (the universal symbol for “you guys! we’re at the Kmetzes’ “). Then they proceeded straight to the pantry to grab a pack of gushers, and ran outside to join us. Then we played [insert awesome game here] until the sun went down and my mom took three Bobolis out of the oven and we all burned the top of our mouths on hot pepperoni. Ah, those were the days.

Can we please all just commit to each other right now that we will turn off our routers, change the wifi password, disengage the 4G LTE force field, shove our kids out the door, and tell them not to come back until it’s dark? When they get all “But… But… excuses!” just give them some ideas from this post.

I’m so excited to reminisce about childhood games that I think I may throw a block party just to live vicariously through the kids in my neighborhood.

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1. Capture the Flag

Probably the most recognizable on this list, capture the flag has at one time split most American 1/4 acre plots down the middle, separating good from evil directly along the line of the chimney to the edge of the driveway. No, actually the chimney to the basketball hoop. Or the basketball hoop to the front steps. Just don’t crush mom’s lilies, they are finally doing their thing.

How to play: Split into two teams and agree upon the size of your playing field. Get permission from neighbors if you plan to run a muck all over the darn neighborhood. Then discuss the line that splits the fields in half. Choose a side. Pick your flags. Teams go to their respective sides, and begin! When players are caught on the opposite side, they may be tagged and placed in “jail”. Your teammates can tag you out of jail and you may continue playing. The object of the game is to steal the other team’s flag and get it back into your home zone safely. More details here.

2. Sardines

This game is the most embarrassing for the loser. And there is always one distinct loser. He discovers all of his friends and siblings, gathered in the bushes, pointing and laughing at how obvious it should have been that Johnny was behind the rhododendrons the whole time. It’s the perfect game for future contestants of Survivor – build an alliance, exclude that one weird kid from down the street, find the hider, then wait and whisper about he totally can’t find you guys. But seriously though, no meanies allowed.

How to play: This is basically reverse hide-and-seek. Draw straws to see who will be the first hider. The hider can choose to hide outside or inside. When players find the hider, they must ask, “Are you the sardine?” If the hider says yes, then you must hide with them. The last person to find the sardines becomes the next hider. More details here.

3. Kick the can

Kick the can is by far my favorite of the lot. The feeling that you get when your team successfully distracts the entire other team, and you hide in the bushes for a half hour, risking everything from poison ivy to bug bites, and then finally, there’s been enough silence to be safe and you burst out of the bushes and sprint to the middle of the street, wind your leg up like popeye and totally NAIL that thing. It incorporates all the best elements of achieving pure satisfaction: delay of gratification, spy and ninja skills, build up, and dramatic execution.

How to play: Draw straws to see who will be “it” first. That person will go looking for the rest of the players, who are hiding. Once the “it” person finds a hider, they call out their name. As soon as the hider’s name is called, they race back to the can which is in the middle of the playing area. If the it person gets there first, the hider must go to jail. If the hider gets there first, they kick the can (HARD) and everyone in jail gets set free. The last hider to be found is the winner. More details here.

4. Pickle

I played pickle exclusively at Hood’s Pond, a spring fed tiny lake/large pond in Topsfield, Massachusetts where I grew up. My parents were dedicated board members for many years, spreading sand on the beach, removing seaweed from the swimming area, putting the docks in during spring and taking them out at the end of summer. Running back and forth in the warm sand, pickle is the perfect  game to play in between swimming and visiting the ice cream truck.

How to play: Pick two bases and two people to be at the “ends”. We always picked the cement wall of bathroom building, and a big tree on the edge of the beach. The two ends guard the bases. As long as everyone is touching the base, they are safe. The ends throw a tennis ball back and forth and the players run from one base to the next. If one of the ends hits or tags another player with the ball while they are off base, that person becomes an end. More details here.

5. Four square

Meh. Definitely not the coolest game of the lot, though the “cherry bomb” does make things interesting.

How to play:  Use chalk to draw a block or grid of four squares, each 5 feet by 5 feet. The 4th block is the highest spot. Kids make a line outside of the #1 spot. The ball gets served by the 4th spot player to the 1st spot player. From there, the ball gets hit back and forth into the other squares until someone steps out of their square, misses the ball, or hits the ball outside of another square. Whoever that person is gets knocked out and sent to the back of the line, sending someone new in at spot #1. The object of the game is to make it up to spot #4 and stay there as long as possible. More details here.

6. Marco polo

Marco polo is the only game here that requires water. The perfect excuse to go over to your friends house with a pool. Though, there’s always that kid that abuses the “fish out of water” rule.

How to play: Draw straws to see who is Marco first. that person must close their eyes. He can periodically yell “Marco” and the other people in the pool must respond with “Polo”. Marco chases the other players based on the sound of their voice. When Marco tags someone, they become the new Marco. More details here.

And the winner of our $50 giveaway is…. THOMAS M! Thanks Thomas!

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AdrienneThis post was written by Activity Adrienne.  She’s responsible for Thrively’s activity content and our social media channels.  At one point in her life she really did want to be the next Picabo Street.  And the next Martina Hingis. And the next Kerri Strug. And the next Brandi Chastain. And the next… Ok, you get it.

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Gamers Made Good Profile: Alan Wolfe, Senior Software Engineer at Blizzard Entertainment

We asked, they answered.  Team Thrively owes a big thanks to our gamer guest blog contributors who shared their gaming upbringing.  Alan’s is the third gaming success story in our series. 

My interest in gaming started when my parents bought me an NES in the late 80s and started with games such as the original Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, Castlevania and the Final Fantasy series.

Similar to reading books or watching movies, video games had a certain immersiveness  to them, which I found very appealing.  Unlike books or movies though, video games also had an interactive element that let me explore their worlds.  It was like being taken to another universe and being let loose to adventure.

One of the most famous game designers of all time, Shigeru Miyamoto, drew on his own adventures as a child in rural Japan when creating the legend of Zelda apparently, so that sense of adventure from playing video games really should come as no surprise.

I grew up before the Internet existed, so playing video games was mostly an individual activity for me, where I would sit for hours and wander through the various worlds as the hero fighting monsters and questing for great justice. Sometimes video games were social, like when playing with my parents, or at a friend’s house.  But for the most part, it was a solitary activity for me and I preferred that, so as to be able to really myself into the virtual worlds.

While in 7th grade, a small group of friends and I decided to start learning to program games in a language called QBasic.  We started off with really simple text adventures, then learned how to fake graphics with text characters on the screen (such as having an X where the player was and having enemies be Y’s moving around on the screen) and we eventually learned how to do proper graphics with lines and circles, then started dabbling in some basic music and sound effects.

It was a blast working on projects and sharing them, while also sharing techniques we figured out with each other.  I found that the immersiveness and adventure of creating a game was pretty much on par with playing them.  It took the interactions I had with these virtual worlds to the next level.  Not only could I interact with fantastical places, I could now create them as well.

In early high school, an uncle who is a professional programmer put me on the path to “real programming” by giving me a C++ compiler and a stack of programming books.  That was really what took me off the path from hobbyist game developer and put me on the path to becoming a professional.  I thank him every chance I get.

While in high school, my parents supported my hobby by letting me pick out books on game programming, and programming in general, and I was able to spend a lot of time reading those books and practicing the material by creating games.  Admittedly, I never once finished any of the games I started, but I would instead just implement the things that I thought were interesting, and then would stop working on one game and start the next.  That worked well for me in that I learned a lot of things fairly rapidly, but I do wish that I had actually made the effort to finish some of those projects.  The skill of bringing something to completion and adding a high level of polish is something I didn’t really put a lot of effort into, and is a skill I started to appreciate later on.

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I’m ultimately self-taught.   In hindsight, I really wish that I had taken the college route.  I would have gotten to where I wanted to be a lot sooner, I would be farther along now, and the student loans would have actually been less than the lost income my “self teaching” delay caused.  Live and learn I guess!

My advice to parents is that if your child has a passion, let them pursue it, and help them be successful.  When I was growing up, video game programming was not a sensible career, but now it is extremely lucrative.  Those years of working in my garage on my hobby projects and playing video games in front of the TV has translated to me now working for a multi-billion dollar company, making a very decent salary, getting emails and calls from other gaming companies on a daily basis trying to recruit me away.  You never know what the future holds!

If you like video games, but find out that programming is not for you, games also need artists, game designers (designers are the people that actually decide how the game is going to work), musicians, producers (producers help make sure people have what they need to keep things on schedule), business people, and many other roles as well.  There are a million ways you can be involved in the creation of video games, so if it’s your passion, don’t be afraid to pursue it!

You might ask, is making video games as amazing as it sounds?  In a word, yes!

It’s indescribable to see a game you created on the shelves at the store, or seeing other people playing your creation.  Working at 8 different video game companies, they’ve all had amazing perks – such as everyone going to see the latest movie during work hours, or having pizza delivered on Fridays, or getting early access to video games made by other companies.

It’s true that there can sometimes be long hours when trying to reach a deadline (called “crunch”), but crunch doesn’t usually last very long and is normally the product of poor planning – although not always!

It’s also true that there can be quite a bit of turbulence when making games due to companies starting up and shutting down all the time.  For me and my friends and coworkers, getting your foot in the door and getting game experience seems to be the hardest part. Once you have that, it’s usually pretty easy to find another job if you need to, so the instability isn’t so bad.

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Alan

Alan Wolfe: A gamer who become a game developer

Currently: Senior Software Engineer at Blizzard Entertainment

Credits: Line Rider, Gotham City Impostors, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Battle Nations, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

My blog on programming and game development

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Gamers Made Good Profile: Steven Green, Shriek Studios

We asked, they answered.  Team Thrively owes a big thanks to our gamer guest blog contributors who shared their gaming upbringing.  Steve’s is the second gaming success story in our series. 

My mother was probably the one who really got me interested in the video game world when she bought me a Sony PlayStation for my birthday in 1995. Neither of us thought that a birthday present would lead me down a path to the career.  I spent hours in my room playing the system but it wasn’t until “Crash Bandicoot” came out that I really got hooked. Once I played it, I found myself looking into the company behind it, Naughty Dog. I wanted to know not only more about the characters, story and game, but the company. For me, I found myself fascinated by the fun sound effects, insane laughter of Ripper Roo, and the mainly silent protagonist, Crash.

With every game I played, I found myself looking at the details, the artwork, sound and music as well as the quality of play style and storyline. Because of this gaming was more of a personal thing I did. As I grew up on games, multiplayer was in its infancy. I would find myself having fun sitting next to friends, but when I was alone I paid total attention to the video game. I went through times of borderline obsession with games and had arguments with my parents because of this. For me it felt as though I were reading a book. I got to take the role of a character, be put in their shoes, go through their trials, and experience their superpowers or lack thereof. I felt in control.

When I decided to attempt to create games, it was actually because I wanted to tell a story. I was never the popular kid through elementary or high school.  My stories were never interesting to my classmates. In a sense, I’m hoping now to tell stories through the games I help create. I want to be one of the people behind one of those iconic characters so many gamers love.

As far as coding goes, I never actually took a coding class. I found coding isn’t my strong suit, but there are more ways to be involved in creating games than through coding. I currently work in the sound department of some games, creating the sound effects, leading on dialogue recording and editing. Other areas that are light on the coding side include Art, which involves characters and environments, and Writing; creating stories that could end up the script to a video game. Coding is very important to making video games, but it is in no way the only role required to create them.

ShriekStudios

If anyone ever had a hand in influencing my decision of career paths, it would have to be my parents and family. It’s extremely difficult for any child to pursue a path, even if they love it, if their family doesn’t support them. They raised me telling me games would rot my brain, hurt my eyesight and lower my school grades. Here I am now, though, beginning to make a living off of creating games. However, I like to say that I create worlds.

Technology that has helped me evolve from a gamer to a creator are programs such as FMOD and Wwise. These are both middleware programs used in the sound department of many video games. Rather than through hard coding, these programs give a nice smooth workflow and can be easy to understand when implementing audio into games.

If I were to give any advice to parents who have kids dabbling at the idea of being a video game developer, it would be to support them. Video game development can be a high-risk career but it can have very high rewards. The satisfaction behind knowing someone is taking the time to play through what you created, laugh at the jokes, cry at the emotional moments and cheer triumphantly when completing the challenges you created is amazing. I suppose movies and film can be looked at as similar, but to me a video game can be much more emotional as you develop bonds to the character you’re in complete control of.

The best perspective I can give is that creating video games is not all about coding any more. It’s evolving and requiring many more skill sets such as the aforementioned audio, art and story development. A comparison could be made between the old Mario games, saving a princess in a castle, to the recently developed The Last of Us by Naughty Dog, with hours of in-depth story and character development.

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SteveGreenMy name is Steve Green, I founded Shriek Studios in 2013 in an attempt to get more involved with the audio world. I grew up around music and want to continue it into my future. My current plan is to move into SFX, dialogue and music editing for video games. I am currently helping in the development of a number of video games such as “Sunrider” by Love In Space, Chrono Rider by Korion Studios, Anima: Gate of Memories, and Line of Fire by Remix Games. I enjoy every aspect of my job as a sound designer. I’m extremely passionate in helping others pursue similar game development positions. 

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Gamers Made Good Profile: Keith Z. Leonard, Sword and Spirit Software, LLC

We asked, they answered.  Team Thrively owes a big thanks to our gamer guest blog contributors who shared their gaming upbringing.  Keith’s is the first of many gaming success stories team Thrively would like to share. 

Q. What sparked your interest in video games originally?  Did a family member or friend introduce you to gaming? 

In the early 1980s home computers began to appear.  My father (a Civil Engineer) was steadfastly against computers in general and informed us in no uncertain terms that we would NOT be getting one.  That Christmas my Grandmother (his Mother) bought us a TI99/4a color computer, so he was stuck with it.  My Father’s reaction to this was to declare: “We will not be buying video games for this thing, they are Pabulum for small minds!”  At the time video games were basically divided into text based adventure puzzle games and low-tech action games such as Pong.  I was the youngest of three boys and constantly wanting my elder brothers to “hang out” with me, so I decided that I would figure out how to use this machine to make a game of my own to play with them.  In those days a computer would boot up to a command line prompt and was mostly useless unless you could program.  The TI came with a language that was an odd mixture of basic and assembly-esc commands that could be expanded with a plug in module and would allow hardware accelerated sprites (8 of them!!!).  After making a few simple text based games and an ascii art dungeon crawler my brothers were hanging out with me and my parents were on board enough to buy the extended programming module.  It was off to the races from there.  I was 11 at that point, growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

Q. What was the game that got you hooked?  What did you enjoy about it?

So many!  Back then we had games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and an unending love of Parsec.  When we got our Commodore 128 the games just exploded for us, my parents’ restrictions went out the window once they realized that it would be silly to stop me from making games, so how could they stop me from playing them??  The summer games and winter games series got a serious amount of play back then – Karateka, Ghostbusters – the list goes on and on.  What I most loved about that period of time in gaming were those icy winter days on top of the mountain when we would be snowed in and exhausted from shoveling (and snow ball fights), would come inside and the boys would play games.  The games of that era had a limited engagement value, so you didn’t have these 10-hour game sessions with just one game.  We spent most of our time working, building our house, the neighbor’s house, barns, and additions for people on weekends.  The times (and there were quite a few) when the weather wasn’t cooperative, video games became the equal of reading to keep us entertained and out of our parents’ hair.

As games evolved they became more involved, and I stuck to the classic puzzlers and action games.  The Bard’s Tale consumed a lot of my hours, later The 7th Guest was probably my favorite game for quite awhile, and I also spent a ton of time playing Wolfenstein 3D and eventually Doom.  Immersion was the key here, these fantastic worlds with their unreal challenges.  In school we had contests in Wings of Fury and Defender of the Crown (no contest, I was destroying people).  Probably my favorite game from the early PC era was Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos.  It was a long-to-play game with a pseudo 3D feel and a “real time” combat system.  I spend hours and hours with that game, again escaping the boredom in a fantasy world.

Q. How did your interest in video games evolve?  Was it a social activity – way to unwind from school?

I think I’ve already answered this, ha ha.  It was a social activity with my brothers at first, but then a way to get away from the requirements of my life.  School wasn’t something that wound me up; mostly I found it boring and simple.  I think this is true of more kids than we’d like to admit, school isn’t very engaging.  It’s not about the learning aspects though, kids are generally thirsty for knowledge, but like adults it has to interest them.  Games are interesting, simple as that.

Q. What do you recall about when you decided to produce something related to gaming rather than just be a consumer of video games?  For example, did you want to create a new game that you thought would be fun?  Did you take a programming class?

I’m ahead of the questions already, my apologies to your editors.  I actually produced something related to gaming before being a consumer of video games.  I was already a consumer of games though, board games, RPGs, and card games were involved in our family fun times.  After those initial games I made from age 11-13 or so I didn’t make games for a while, and became mostly a consumer.  My oldest brother was involved in programming contests with the high school computer science/calculus teacher at the time as he used the results to help justify grants.  I spent some time after school going to the high school and getting educated in things like base transformations so that when I got to high school I would be on those teams.  I won 3rd place and 1st place twice in high school in a team of three people solving programming puzzles for the ACM.  Back then I mostly just played games.  I had less time for making them as other interests were consuming my free time.

I did make a game FOR a programming class in high school.  We were quite lucky and had a fantastic computer science teacher.  How often do you get a high school teacher with a PhD in Computer Science?  He was also highly entertaining and engaging.  In high school this was about all that I did for games; it wasn’t until college that I started making games again.  A friend of mine wanted to make games and had great ideas, but maybe not the coding chops all of the time as graphics/audio started to become more involved, so we started to make games together.  We did a windows game as a directed project in our senior year and took classes in Artificial Intelligence and graphics (I helped update the graphics course with my prof back then).

Q. Did someone from your formidable years influence you to become a coder?  Was it a teacher, a friend, or a neighbor?  How did this person influence you?

My high school Computer Science teacher was just as big an influence though, he was proof that you could “get old” and still be cool, even if you were dressed in suits from the bargain bin from a men’s warehouse.  Dr. K (as we called him) was a gamer and a coder.  He would set challenges and modify assembly to crack games and make them easier to beat.

Q. Did you have access to specific technology that helped you evolve from gamer to coder?

I did, in that I had a computer, a programming language, and most importantly…time.  People tend to have their kids so scheduled these days that it’s a wonder if they ever figure out what they really WANT to do.  They are too busy doing all of the things that they HAVE to do.  There is one specific story that helped though, I went out to interview with Microsoft for the “interactive multimedia team.”  By the time I got there they had disposed of that team and I ended up interviewing with Office and Project teams in which I had no interest.  The great thing though was that they had formed the original DirectX team and I went to dinner with that group.  I ended up leaving with beta versions of Windows 95 and DirectX version one (3D wasn’t a thing yet).  That really got me going as DirectX was a good API and Windows 95 was an exciting advancement that made Windows the OS of choice for gamers.  Having access to that and a version of Visual Studio 2.0 that I got as a present from my cousin is what landed me my first game developer job.

I was playing a ton of games.  Trying to recreate those with only access to the BASIC language was pretty well impossible.  I had done some 3D wireframe work in BASIC but it was too slow and limiting (by far) to do anything interesting.  Having a good compiler and access to fast SDKs allowed me to go from some fun wireframe experiments to a scanline rasterizer and massive sprite (for the time) based games.  It got me back into making them more than playing them, if that make sense.

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Q. How did your parents or other family members influence you?

So many people influenced me.  My father’s love of math and science was probably the start:  Long talks at dinner about the origin of the universe and various species in history were common.  I showed an interest in how things worked.  He started to explain physics to me (with his old textbooks) when I was quite young, at a level that was approachable…basic things like levers, etc.  My father’s influence was huge in terms of what I would eventually do in the industry as a lower level game engine programmer.

My mother was probably the biggest motivator for me being in the game industry though, through fear.  She was terrified when I expressed a desire to attend Berkley for music, so I ended up trying to find a career that would both entertain me and limit her night terrors.  It is funny to think about now though as she was equally convinced that people would never be able to make a living creating games.

My brothers influenced me in that it was better to make games for them to play than go to war with them, especially as they were quite larger than I was, ha.  I used games to become their friends and their interests influenced mine.  My eldest brother was interested in how stuff works, eventually becoming an Electrical Engineer.  The middle of the three of us was a story driven sort of guy.  His influence certainly helped me go from my “this is stupid” dismissive phase to motivating me to make my games interesting.

My cousins were influences as well.  We saw them about 6 times a year or so (give or take) and they were just the coolest people.  They lived in a well-to-do area near DC, so they were the “city folks.”  They always had the latest game systems and exposed me to a lot of video gaming that I would have otherwise been ignorant.  My cousin Doug became a programmer and he gave me my first legit C++ IDE.

Q. What advice would you give parents today that want to see their children take their gaming skills and apply it to something that’s productive or will put them on some related career path? 

It’s funny that people have had this view of video gamers as sort of people in the basement alone in the dark historically.  That perception has changed a lot I think thanks to MMOs.  The point is that gaming is extremely social.  The big leaps or road blocks that I see are convincing kids that they can make their own ideas real (or virtually real) and that it’s worth doing that.  A lot of effort has gone into making these games playgrounds for kids, and I applaud those efforts.  It is great for getting an initial spark started.  Lately my concern has been with making it “too easy.”  Challenges have to be increasingly demanding to allow for growth and with a deep enough understanding of how things work to transform hobby game makers into career game makers that can actually get hired.

Mainly I’d say don’t stifle your kids and don’t try TOO hard to navigate their interests.  Expose kids to a wide variety of things and they’ll figure it out for themselves.  So many of the people in games have been looked at as odd balls by the institutions as they developed.  What are you going to do with that music career??  Who cares if you can make odd noises with that stuff?  Why would you spend your time writing crazy stories?  It’s also true of coders in that learning how to code for games is quite different from the popular marketable coding disciplines of today, just don’t stop them and kids will make very interesting things happen.

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Keith

Keith Leonard is a 16 year industry vet and on the team of Sword and Spirit Software. At DreamForge Intertainment he worked on WarWind II: Human Onslaught, Unreal Engine’s OpenGL renderer, 3D studio max tools for Sanitarium, Werewolf (designer and rendering engineer), and one of the two primary rendering engineers for the DreamForge 3D engine upon which the Myst 4, Kehl: Fury Unbound, and Legend of the Sun projects were based.

 

 

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Gamers make good (Spoiler alert: Parent involvement is key!)

In an earlier post, Gamify Your Children’s Strengths, we talked about how the gaming community is expanding.  How much?  If you want to think of it in cold cash, gamers spent $93 billion worldwide last year, according to Gartner Research.  Video game consoles bring in roughly half of the revenues, with mobile gaming growing faster every year.

Thanks to smartphones, gaming is more accessible.  Chances are, unless you are Amish (which would make it really challenging to read this post), your kids are going to game either in your home, at a friend’s home, at school or eventually on their smartphone.

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Gaming is a passion for many.  Team Thrively believes in the positive development of passions.  Parents are the best gauge for when habitual gaming crosses over into unproductive time.  But for the time you do allow your kids to indulge, we have a few recommendations.  More accurately, we are passing along the suggestions of gamers whose childhood investment in gaming turned out to be valuable in their adulthood:

Top 10 Parent Suggestions from gamers who cashed in on their skills 

1.  If you can’t get on board with gaming, you can still inspire a love of problem solving and curiosity.

Keith Leonard recalls his father saying, “We will not be buying video games for this thing, they are Pabulum for small minds!”

Keith also credits his father for setting a high standard for learning:  “My father’s love of math and science was probably the start:  Long talks at dinner about the origin of the universe and various species in history were common.  I showed an interest in how things worked.  He started to explain physics to me (with his old textbooks) when I was quite young, at a level that was approachable…basic things like levers, etc.  My father’s influence was huge in terms of what I would eventually do in the industry as a lower level game engine programmer.”

2.  Encourage appreciation for how using technology beyond gaming for entertainment can be useful – either to others or ourselves.

When Justin Richards was young his family traveled to Romania to refurbish computers and teach technology classes in orphanages.  Justin recalled dusting off the computers and getting them set up for classes.  This family project made the entire Richards clan technologically savvy and demonstrated the power of providing access and knowledge to others.

3.  We encourage our kids to be good readers so they can eventually become good communicators.  Put on your reading teacher hat and ask your kids to tell you all about their game, including the time in history, setting, characters and storyline.

Steve Green’s love of gaming plots inspired him to write his own stories for gamers like him:   “For me it felt as though I were reading a book. I took on the role of characters, was put in their shoes, went through their trials, and experienced their superpowers or lack thereof.  I felt in control…. When I decided to attempt to create games, it was actually because I wanted to tell a story.”

4.  Be proactive.  If you see a spark of interest, sign up your kids to learn how to program, code, mod, animate or design so they develop a love of producing games.

Justin Richards recognized that there were many opportunities for high school students who wanted to code, but far fewer for middle school and late elementary school children.  Justin created Youth Digital specifically for the 8-14 year old age range.

Helpful hint:  Thrively has thousands of coding classes listed by location ranging from free after school programs, to online classes to two week camps.

5.  Keep your children’s strengths and interests in mind as you encourage them to explore gaming beyond the entertainment experience.  Gaming experience leads to many careers beyond coding.

According to Steven Green, “There are more ways to be involved with creating games than through coding. I currently work in the sound department of some games, creating the sound effects, leading on dialogue recording and editing. Other areas that are light on the coding side include art, which involves characters and environments, and writing.  For example, creating stories that could end up becoming a script to a video game. Coding is very important to making video games, but it is in no way the only role required to create them.”

6.  Ask your kids what part of the game gives them that oomph!  That’s what Team Thrively calls passion.

Alan Wolf recalls:  “Similar to reading books or watching movies, video games had a certain immersive quality to them which I found very appealing.  Unlike books or movies though, video games also had an interactive element that let me explore their worlds.”

7.  Seek good influencers who can guide your children to moving beyond playing video games and understanding the creative development side of gaming.

Alan Wolfe remembers how his friends inspired him:  “While in 7th grade, a small group of friends and I decided to start learning to program games in a language called QBasic.  We started off with really simple text adventures, then learned how to fake graphics with text characters on the screen (such as having an X where the player was and having enemies be Y’s moving around on the screen) and we eventually learned how to do proper graphics with lines and circles, then started dabbling in some basic music and sound effects.  It was a blast working on projects and sharing them, while also sharing techniques we figured out with each other.”

8.  If you lack ideal influences and resources to support your child, create them!  It can be amazing an amazing journey for you and great for your child’s self esteem:

That’s what Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code did for her daughter.  See Kimberly Bryant’s full-length video where Kimberly reflects on the big picture, “It’s not about coding, it’s also about creating self confidence in young girls of color.”

9.  Ask your children to demonstrate a deeper interest in gaming beyond recreation.  If you are encouraged by what you see, give them more freedom to explore.

Keith Leonard’s parents were reluctant at first, but Keith’s intellectual curiosity made them feel more at ease that his time wasn’t wasted on gaming:  “My parents’ restrictions went out the window once they realized that it would be silly to stop me from making games, so how could they stop me from playing them??”

Steve Green’s parents were all in from the start.  It made a world of difference:  “It’s extremely difficult for any child to pursue a path, even if they love it, if their family doesn’t support them. {My parents} raised me telling me games would rot my brain, hurt my eyesight and lower my school grades. Here I am now, though, beginning to make a living off of creating games. However, I like to say that I create worlds.”

10.  Become invested.

Before starting Youth Digital Justin Richards taught coding to inner city kids who were at risk for not graduating high school.  Justin noticed the parents who came to class with their children, asked questions, were engaged and “just cared” often ended up with bright, active learners who went on to do brilliant things in coding.

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Discover Your Child's Strengths

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Gamify your children’s strengths

Team Thrively is taking on a big topic, gaming, in a series of posts. Starting with Gamify Your Children’s Strengths, we look at how gaming went from solitary boredom buster to a bustling community of not-so-stereotypical participants.    

Hey parents, did you feel that cultural jolt?  It was the shift of parental challenges moving beneath our feet.

In the blink of less than a generation, parents went from worrying about inactive minds and bodies to fretting over hyper-stimulated neurons.  The family couch is no longer the symbol for everything that worries parents about their children’s motivations (or lack of). Today’s weary parents have a new permanent temptation in their children’s lives – gaming.  And the kiddos don’t even need a couch to indulge.

Parents have strong opinions about gaming and how it will wire their children’s brains.  They should.  A core gamer can be thought of as someone who spends five or more hours per week gaming.   On average though, core gamers spend 22 hours a week gaming.  Compare that to the average school week of 35 hours and you begin to appreciate the influence games have.  Just like any activity a child becomes immersed in, parental involvement is key to a positive outcome.

Team Thrively set out to crack the code (pun intended) on how young gaming enthusiasts grow up to become gainfully employed coders.  We talked to successful coders and asked them to tell us what made them flip from a consumer of games to a producer of games.  As we dove in, it became clear this was a pretty narrow question.  Thanks to our contributors and great research in gamification, we have a lot to share about how gaming, with guidance, can help build children’s strengths.

Is Thrively recommending that you encourage your kids to game?  Not at all – that decision lies squarely with you, the parent.  But if you are somewhere between embracing and tolerating the gamers in your home, games can be a way to help your children build strengths.

One important point is that the cult of gamers is transforming faster than the stereotypes can form.  The graduating class of 2014 started their gaming infatuation on Gameboys, Wi-Fi-less Nintendo 64s and PlayStations.  Boys and men were the early adopters.  Shoot-em-up, racing and sports games catered to the masculine crowd. Gaming now captivates all ages and both genders.  Gamers congregate around what behaviors the game motivates and how the entertainment is delivered (think Xbox live or Facebook or an iPhone).

Naked Communications and Playnomics teamed up on researching gamer profiles and found eight different types.  If you look at some of the labels the gaming community starts to look like any other community.  Team Thrively was fascinated to see some of the gamer types mirroring categories in Thrively’s strength profile.  Gaming is expanding to meet almost every interest and take advantage of a variety of strengths.  Pretty clever!

Types of Gamers

If you have a gamer in the family, and a Thrively account, take a moment to look at your child’s Thrively Strength Profile.  Do you have a competitive child?  Maybe he or she is into a gem and badge collecting game like Boom Beach.  Does your child have high social acumen?  Maybe he or she is drawn to Farmville on Facebook.  Does your child love strategy?  If so, you may have a League of Justice pro under your roof.

The nagging question remains though:  How can hours of gaming amount to something valuable your child can use in higher education and (someday) employment?  We pass along the advice directly from gamers in the next post – Gamers Make Good.

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Try taking up more space, you might feel better

As a child, I was encouraged to smile often, be pretty, speak softly, and don’t play in the dirt. My mother never left the house without make up and a matching outfit, and she fussed over my hair constantly.

As an adult living in Seattle, I became friends with women whose values about presentation, gender expression, and identity made me realize how very restricted I had felt growing up. I never knew how small I had allowed myself to be until I observed other women who were unafraid to take up space.

According to recent studies, women typically take up less space than men, feel less powerful than men, and are perceived as less powerful by others. Researchers who focus on body language have discovered that higher status people tend to smile less, make direct eye contact, and hold expansive postures like sitting with legs and arms spread apart.  Lower status individuals smile more, glance away from people, and take up less space by sitting with crossed legs in constrictive postures.

Individuals with higher status not only take up more space, they also feel more confident and experience less stress than those of lower status. Studies have found a correlation between higher levels of testosterone found in high status people and self esteem.  High status individuals also enjoy consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

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Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, at Harvard University, wanted to know if our posture alone alters confidence and sense of personal power. Cuddy asked her subjects to stand in “high power” poses for two minutes and measured their testosterone and cortisol levels both before and after. The high status poses included the “Wonder Woman” pose (legs apart, shoulders back, hands on hips) and the Victory pose (arms raised in a “V”,  feet apart). After controlling for baseline levels of both hormones, Cuddy and her coauthors found that high-power poses decreased cortisol by about 25 percent and increased testosterone by about 19 percent across the board. They also found that low-power poses increased cortisol about 17 percent and decreased testosterone about 10 percent. Additionally, participants in the high power pose group reported feeling more powerful and in charge.

The implications of this research suggest that those of us who feel most powerless stand to gain from this exercise. Posing more confidently makes us more confident. The liberation I felt hanging out with women who took up space and encouraged me to do so Learning to take up more space was for me a bio-psychosocial phenomenon. We can empower ourselves by taking a tip from Linda Carter: spread out and expand your posture; it might just make you feel better.

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An image of Jamie Katz
Jamie Katz is a psychotherapist in Seattle specializing in the treatment of anxiety and trauma. An LA native, Jamie enjoys hiking, cooking and exploring the Northwest with her family. Jamie trains educators and healthcare professionals in the treatment of trans youth and provides supportive psychotherapy to gender nonconforming kids and their families.
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Discover Your Child's Strengths
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Kids can follow their bliss armed with more than just hope

This post is by Geraldine Smythe, CEO and co-founder of culturebooster

“Do what you love and the money will follow…”

So goes the mantra of parents, career counselors, and superstars who’ve already made a splash in their field of choice. To a kid or teen, these guys can seem to have the “what do you want to do in life?” question all figured out.  But the truth is less obvious for most students. How exactly CAN they do better than just dabble and actually “make it” doing what they love, especially if what they love has no clear career pathway? And what if they have a skill (like our 10 year old friend Bradlee whom you’ll meet later on in this article) that they don’t realize is one so rare, they could be sitting on an obscure, but lucrative opportunity if they only knew how to develop their skill properly? Or, maybe a young person has some real-world examples of older siblings or friends who are struggling to find their place financially. All of those situations can be pretty scary for anyone about to fly the coop and not sure what to do next!

No matter how optimistic your kids might be, they have likely already heard it’s not easy to make it as a brilliant painter or an exceptional writer. And they may not be cut out to be a nurse or coder, or any number of other “hot” professions. Even if a young person has their fair share of talent, talent alone is not enough to stand out in the crowd. I’ve rarely met a student at age 12, or even 17, who knows without a shadow of a doubt that there is just one clear career path for them to follow for the rest of their life. Between longer lifespans, a competitive global economy, and Moore’s law exponentially expanding our technology possibilities, the world is almost too abundant in the options it offers up to a curious and energetic young person.

So what’s a kid to choose?

While I’m sure most parents would ideally love to encourage kids to just follow their bliss (and hope like heck they get paid enough for it), more of us are likely to intervene in their choice, nudging our children towards a “safer” career, even if we know it’s not squarely aligned with junior’s personal strengths. The whole process can be quite overwhelming for families and a cause for tension, but it doesn’t have to be.

At culturebooster, we think a better approach for world (and household) peace lies somewhere between these two oppositional approaches, because we all have multiple abilities to create unique “value” for the world and get paid accordingly. Our average lifespan is long enough now to develop a variety of skills over time that align with our innate strengths, letting us create numerous valuable contributions to the world: for example, new music for all to enjoy, an invention to improve factories, or a new service in business.

A new learning paradigm for the new century…

Traditionally, schools have evolved to teach students very specific “how to” skills to be proficient at certain subjects that are deemed important during different times in history. In the last 20 years as technology has exploded, academic skills have been reviewed and schools and society are heeding the demand to teach core subjects like math and science, downplaying or even displacing the arts. But, we’re recognizing more and more that what kids really need to master are the so-called soft or “21st Century” skills, such as problem solving or communication, in order to create value for today’s employers. So, while schools are where students learn such skills as “how to” do math problems or paint a picture with decent composition, they are painfully unprepared to teach students “WHY” this mastery matters and how to make a living as a wonderful mathematician or artist. Yet, armed with both the appropriate academic skill sets, AND a mastery of the soft “21st Century skills”, a young student can pursue the subject they love and navigate themselves successfully into a profession that can be as fulfilling to the soul as it is to the pocket book.

By helping kids focus on their personal strengths, then working on student-driven teams of friends to create a new project with value to people beyond the school walls, students exercise the exact soft skills in a real-world context that future employers care about deeply. culturebooster kids get to design, lead and launch a fun and creative fundraising project online to benefit their school or local charity. Throughout that process they put their soft skills to practice to deliver a real project as they learn to:

  • Communicate
  • Problem-solve creatively
  • Become digitally fluent
  • And collaborate on delivering a final product

The world will continue to change around us throughout our lives. The culturebooster program teaches kids how to manage change by relying on their own innate strengths. Doing so, they can see themselves through any challenges and navigate their unique path to achieving their dreams with confidence.

And this is our team’s entire inspiration! We founded the educational company because we were sad to see nothing much has changed in the career preparation approach schools take since we graduated from high school. But, the world has changed and continues to change immensely. Our team’s grand challenge is to bridge the gap between school and work, and assist students as they make the leap from turning their “how to” skills into assets for themselves and society.

A success story…

Who amongst us likes cold-calling and asking people for money? I can hear you, my dear reader, just shrinking in your seat at the thought! Well, it turns out, there are a few of us who not only have the chops to get this job done successfully, but actually THRIVE at it, too!

It was late in April this Spring when I went to observe a culturebooster class at City View Elementary School on the rural side of Wichita Falls, Texas. 14 students were absolutely pumped for class at this small, modest public school. Today was the day they were getting to jump on the phones at long last and make their “pitch” that they’d written together painstakingly, to ask local businesses to help them update their white boards at school, which were really in need of modernizing. They had decided they couldn’t ask parents for any more donations after a five-year intensive playground fundraising campaign had all but stretched families’ school budgets. Armed with Ms. Starkey’s one classroom telephone, and with her cell phone out on loan, the 5th graders split up into teams and role-played their pitches to feel ready to take their turns dialing out to the community.

That’s when I met Bradlee, a smaller boy for his age, outgoing, with a bright look in his eye. It turns out Bradlee was not the kid most teachers would jump to have in their class, as he could be overly energetic, rambunctious, even disruptive. He was also fearless and immune to getting into trouble. I learned he was no stranger to the principal’s office. This day though, he was going to win huge high fives from his peers, Ms. Starkey, and even another teacher, who had been across the hall after hours, wrapping up her work in her own room, nothing to do with the culturebooster class.

Bradlee’s natural restlessness and fearlessness turned out to be the perfect attributes that are so cherished in outstanding salespeople by growing companies everywhere. Not satisfied to wait his turn in line for a phone, and with a limited amount of time on the clock after the role-playing was done, and a long list of prospects to call, Bradlee took out his own phone and began dialing! And one by one, I witnessed him temper his patience and persist through hang-ups, adults slow to get their managers to the phone, and other out-of-left-field questions normally beyond the ability of a 10 year old to handle. By the end of the 2-hour class, he had secured his team’s first 2 donations, enough to buy 1 of 6 of the cherished white boards they so badly were working towards! The teachers were astounded at his poise, calm demeanor and sheer talent for turning his energy into a powerhouse of productivity for the team. I asked him to reflect on the secret to his success. And his eloquent response was, “I just like to keep it sweet and simple!” Turns out, he learned something really powerful about himself that day, something that no amount of future challenges will ever be able to take away from him again: he has a strength that others deeply value and appreciate him for… cold-calling!

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Knowing how to tap into your own strengths, talents, and interests is the first step to understanding what value you can create for yourself and the world around you. And when we create value for the world, the money will follow! At culturebooster, we look forward to working with your child to uncover their special talents and inspiration, while offering the opportunity to be inspired with friends along the way! Visit www.culturebooster.com to learn more today.