Written by Shaun Sheppard.
I was reflecting on a project I was lucky to be part of recently, and was feeling grateful. Being a part of it satisfied many aspects of what I find important, compelling, and rewarding in life. I just had to share with you here.
The formation of the mind of a child is so important to "get right." Not that anyone knows what "right" is (or should be), or that anyone really has the authority to make such a claim that they do know. However, some folks who make a career of studying the human mind and behavior agree that the early and adolescent years are when long lasting connections are made in the brain. Connections that play a significant role in how a person thinks and perceives the wide world and everything in it.
It is hard enough for parents, extended families, communities, and society at large to raise a child. Imagine how much more difficult things become when adding the additional impediment of a child with a chronic illness and/or disability who spends much of their time in a hospital or somewhat immobilized. More importantly are the difficulties faced within the child themself. How do they think about their own future?
Well, luckily there are people who understand how to impact the minds and lives of these affected children in very positive ways. The folks at Design Futures Initiative (DFI) created the Design Your Own Future Program. In this program, they provide these children with lifelong tools, like the Futures Frameworks, to take control of their future and create agency and hope. It is quite amazing what kind of impact their efforts are having on the youth in the various programs.
Here at Fanaticus, we partner with organizations like DFI to augment their programs and boost engagement with children in the DYOF Program through the use of immersive technologies and specially tailored user experience. In my Army days, I might say Fanaticus is a force multiplier for these types of organizations. And since those days of war games for training, I gained skills and experience to start developing serious games. Early in my time at Fanaticus, Ernesto explained how they came into relationship with DFI, how Parnaz was doing an amazing job leading our efforts, and how my serious game experience would play a vital role.
We conducted weekly combined team meetings where Phil and the DFI team brought their passion and subject matter expertise, Fanaticus folks did the same, and we iteratively advanced. DFI shared their ideas and vision. Parnaz helped capture and organize those ideas and guide the thinking. Children were invited into several meetings along the way to help ensure all personas were represented and had a say in how things were coming together. The holistic approach was working. We made quick progress and stakeholders were excited. That always feels good.
After getting the foundation mostly defined and before the immersive application was developed and available for testing, we conducted playtesting in a low fidelity setting, essentially moving pieces of paper around on a drawing board. Getting this off the ground was rapid and allowed us to gain valuable design insights from the children and mentor alike. What was the mentor’s intended experience and take-aways for the children and were there game mechanics in place to facilitate this well? Did the children identify any analogies in the interactions to the real life lessons to be learned? We always came away with actionable input from all participants and some months later, we had developed a high fidelity, fully immersive virtual reality experience that captured everything we designed.
I find it awesome that learning about computer science, memory allocations, stereoscopic rendering pipelines, software architecture and design patterns, network traffic, CPU architecture and instruction sets put me in a position to help children, their future, and the world. So it seems things do happen for a reason and it's a pleasure working as a member of the talented team here at Fanaticus. Harnessing the combined team talent, experience, and creativity when we find ways to take the deep technical skills, video game design and development experience and sheer creativity and problem solving to significantly enhance another person's ability to achieve their goal. This is what life is all about!
I have always thought video game experiences can be used to make the world a significantly better place. Working with DFI on this project is a wonderful example of how that is absolutely the case. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when we can jump into the next phase of this project. There are children who need us!
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