Meeting the President of the United States is a pretty big deal. Imagine meeting him at 11-years old.
“I was really nervous, but it was really exciting,” says Hannah Wyman, the 11-year-old computer game designer who won the grand prize in Microsoft‘s first Kodu Cup, a competition that challenged American kids ages 9-17 to create a game using the Kodu development tool. “My game, Toxic, is about a city that is getting polluted. You have to go around and collect coins and hearts and jump on buildings and collect things. You help save the city from pollution.” President Obama invited Wyman to the White House to attend the White House Science Fair, which celebrates the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the US.
What’s perhaps most exciting about Hannah’s prize is not necessarily the game itself (although it is entertaining and very well-done), but that it was designed by a girl.
While many girls may be interested in math, science and technology in their school years, it’s a well-publicized fact that few of them follow that interested and have careers in technology. In fact, some studies are showing that women may even use today’s technology more than men. Yet only 18 percent of technology employees are women. Even Hannah admits that technology wasn’t of interest to her at first. “I was really frustrated by technology when I was younger,” says Wyman. “I didn’t understand why you had to double click instead of just clicking…so I didn’t really like computers.” That is why I am so pleased to see Hannah win this award. Game design taps into the creative side of technology – and creative fields are usually those where females make their life-long careers.
So what encouraged Hannah to try her hand at game design? “I think it may have been my
brother,” says Wyman. “He was on computers all the time.” Hannah’s older brother is away at college, majoring in computer science. What does he think of Toxic? “He was really surprised that I made a video game,” she says. “I made him and all my family play it when I was finishing it – they told me if I was missing something, or if I needed to add something into it.”
She has garnered a lot of attention and recognition with her win, but Wyman isn’t resting on her laurels. She and a team of other students at her school, St Anna Catholic School, are creating a new game. And, I’m encouraged to say, three of the members of the four-person design team are girls. Does Wyman think she may have had a positive influence on the other girls in her team? “I don’t know…maybe. They didn’t participate in the project last year, so I’m helping them.”
When President Obama asked her if she wanted to be a game designer, Wyman wasn’t so sure. She does have a few years to decide on her career path, and right now, she is very passionate about hip-hop dance. “Sometimes I think I want to be a dancer when I grow up,” says Wyman. “But sometimes I also think of being a game designer – maybe I will design games about dancing.”
I hope so. Congratulations, Hannah.
About Hannah Wyman
President Barack Obama hosts the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. The President views exhibits of student work, ranging from breakthrough research to new inventions, in the Blue Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Writing a Video Game that Focuses on Saving the Environment. Eleven year old Hannah Wyman who attends St. Anna’s School in Leominster, Massachusetts, won the grand prize in her age group (9-12) for her video game Toxic, in Microsoft’s first-ever U.S. Kodu Cup. In Hannah’s game, which is now available for free on the Kodu Game Lab site, a player must solve puzzles and collect coins in order to remove soot from trees, zap pollution clouds to clean the air, and convince friends to plant more trees, all in an effort to save the environment.
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