To close the gender gap we are demystifying the study of computer science and building helping girls see themselves as "good with computers". When kids are confident they are much more persistent in the face of difficult challenges. They are also more likely to share their opinions and collaborate with others. So confidence building is woven into everything we do, especially during the first two days of camp. We also train instructors on confidence building tactics like praising a girl publicly for a small victory and making sure everyone has a chance to contribute to discussions.
Game design is a creative and empathy building exercise. Designers have to constantly think in terms of the player, who might be very different from themselves. This forces the designer to think about not what they believe would be fun in a game, but what lots of different players might want.
Our game The Foos makes it easy to build Super Mario style games but with girl characters as the hero. Heroines include "Ninja Girl", "Astronaut Girl" and "Queen Candy". And girls are NEVER being rescued in our game. Girls aren't used to seeing themselves as heroes in games so this part of the design process in an empowering moment for them.
In addition, we take the girls through a "paper prototyping" phase where girls first build a game on paper and test it with others for feedback. The camp emphasizes the fact that game design is all about gathering feedback and making changes to a game in an iterative process. The girls go through this a few times with their peers - designing, testing, and refining their games just like they would if they were at a real game studio.
We specifically talk about how this same process could be used to design any game, including ones that focus on issues or stories from their neighborhoods, schools or family life. We also share examples of games that have been designed by women that address a broad range of topics - everything from nurturing animated creatures to experiencing what life as a political refugee is like.
In early testing with our game design curriculum we've found that the girls make huge leaps forward in terms of their interest in computer science and their confidence in their own ability to create something meaningful with technology. Anecdotally, their teachers have shared that this confidence seems to carry over to general class activities and discussions. In the future we are going to commission a study to understand how long these increases in confidence persist.