White House launches educational video game competition

Experienced developers, grade schoolers invited to compete for more than $100,000 in money and prizes by designing science, tech, engineering, math software.

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Last November, the Obama Administration announced the National Video Game Competition as part of Educate to Innovate, a campaign designed to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Details on the initiative were supposed to arrive earlier this year, with winners announced by the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo in June.

The STEM prize should not be confused with a Stim pack.
The STEM prize should not be confused with a Stim pack.

That timeline proved to be a bit too ambitious, as the Entertainment Software Association sent along word today that the National Video Game Competition will begin accepting entries October 12, with submissions closing January 5. The annual competition is being held this year by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media in partnership with sponsors AMD Foundation, Entertainment Software Association, and Microsoft.

"Our success as a nation depends on strengthening America's role as the world's engine of discovery and innovation," President Obama said in a statement. "I applaud partners in the National STEM Video Game Challenge for lending their resources, expertise, and their enthusiasm to the task of strengthening America’s leadership in the 21st century by improving education in science, technology, engineering and math."

The National Video Game Competition has seen some tweaks since it was first announced nearly a year ago, as it now encompasses only two groups. The first group will compete for the Youth Prize and is available to middle school students in grades 5-8. Students from any US school can compete by designing an original video game, and the total prize pool for the competition amounts to $50,000.

Winners of the Youth Prize will receive AMD-based laptops, game design books, and other development tools. Cash prizes will also be doled out to the winning students' sponsoring organization, with underserved rural and urban communities receiving additional money.

The Developer Prize is aimed at professional game designers, challenging them to design an original game for children in pre-Kindergarten through grade 4. The goal of the design is to effectively teach the youth group STEM concepts, as well as cultivate an interest in the technical fields of expertise.

Game designers stand to win a $50,000 grand prize, while two $25,000 awards will go to the top entries submitted by developers currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in the US. An additional $25,000 award will go to the top design aimed at underserved communities, with the example given of a game "built for basic mobile phones that address urgent educational needs among at-risk youth."

A full list of details and guidelines can be found on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center Web site and the National Video Game Challenge Web site.

President Obama could be said to have a love-hate relationship with the games industry. While he has on occasion criticized gaming in general--saying in 2009 that parents need to start "putting away the Xbox [and] putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour--the Wii-owning commander-in-chief has also relied on in-game advertisements to support his election in 2008.

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