So the reason I was MIA earlier this week is because I was involved in an “Education and Learning in Video Games” summit at the E3 Expo in LA. Totally random, right? Actually, no (well, not completely)!
It all started when I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. While I found myself enthusiastically nodding along with most everything Louv wrote about “Nature Deficit Disorder” and the need for kids to be outdoors as much as possible, I paused when I came across a short paragraph on video games. I don’t have the exact quote, but Louv essentially stated that video games are bad and could never contribute to getting kids involved in nature. Something about the sentiment didn’t sit well with me; partially because let’s face it, gaming is here to stay (and not necessarily a bad thing) , and partially because I couldn’t help but think, “how could he KNOW that?” Just think about how far we’ve come with technology since the first computer was introduced…how can anyone make a definite statement that video games are (and therefore, will always be) the enemy of nature? Not to mention, it’s always more productive to think about how you can work with a “problem,” and choose to see it as an opportunity instead, in order to create a solution.
Fast forward to when TILT decided to keep me on full-year, so that I could focus on grant-writing in the off-season. With all the “usual” grant opportunities being spoken for, I went after a lot of corporate foundations, and have managed to secure a mix of moola and product donations. But then I stumbled upon Outdoor Nation, and their small grants program. It was there that I saw the Game On! Challenge:
The Outdoor Foundation, through its Outdoor Nation initiative, partnered with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) as well as leaders in the conservation community and entertainment gaming industry to launch Game ON! Challenge Grants. This first-of-its-kind pilot program invested in youth-inspired projects that leverage entertainment gaming technologies and principles to get a new generation outdoors, active and engaged in conservation challenges.
Sounded like an oxymoron…so how could I not take on the challenge? I took a vague idea that had been rattling around my head since reading Louv, ran it by my serious-gamer brother-in-law, and wrote the grant for “A Forest Story.” I had to enter it in my co-worker’s name, since one of the grant’s criteria was that the entrants be between age 18-28 (apparently I’m old), and discussed pricing/programming with a developer to get a sense of what goes into the entire process, in case I happened to win.
And then I won….well, won under my “alias.”
Anyway, once the news sunk in, I realized that I had to actually get this project moving. But first, as part of the grant, I won a trip to LA to attend E3. For those not in the know (myself included) E3 is like Graceland for gamers. Think huge robots (see above) and unveilings of Xboxes. And lots and lots of dudes. But while the expo was the main event for most, I had been invited specifically to participate in the Education roundtable – which was the highlight for me!
The roundtable consisted of about 30 of us in a hotel conference room – a crowd that consisted of the President of ESA, my fellow grant winners, giants in gaming (Microsoft, Disney, etc), representatives from major foundations, startup consultants, legislators/lobbyists, outdoor enthusiasts, teachers, and scientists (including this guy) – listening to similar success stories and discussing the future of gaming and outdoor activity. It was a bit surreal, especially when I had to get up and introduce myself. But working for a non-profit has trained me for fundraising, so during cocktail hour I networked like cray-cray. Whether my new connections will lead to the extra funding needed to get “A Forest Story” off the ground remains to be seen – stay tuned for updates on this exciting, albeit slightly random, initiative.
But now back to the real world – including TILT’s annual, 450-guest, Community Picnic at Zenda Farm Preserve, which is TONIGHT….can’t wait to get some sleep this weekend!