HIGH POINT, N.C., Dec. 10, 2015 – Super heroes and video games. Kids love them, right?
So why not use them for something good?
Those were the thoughts of Brian Heagney, instructor of communication in the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication at High Point University. Heagney leads a game design course where communication majors learn the technical and story line creation aspects of working in the gaming industry. And he teaches it inside of a state-of-the-art gaming and design lab housed in the school.
This semester, his class became a service learning course where HPU students connected with children at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club who could benefit from mentorship and a place to channel creativity. Each week, the students and children spent time together creating super heroes and game concepts.
The students will admit – sometimes what the children wanted to design wasn’t a super hero. Sometimes it was a mermaid or an animal. And that was OK, because the children were still channeling creativity and learning new things.
“Our children light up when they see their HPU partner,” said Amy Hudson, executive director of the organization. “This showed our kids that a hero doesn’t have to be a comic book super hero. It can be an HPU student right here in their city.”
On Dec. 10, a finale event brought their final characters to life on the big screen for the first time inside the gaming and design lab. The children’s parents came to see what they had learned and created.
Like Nalani Godbolt, who stood up in front of the crowd to present her mermaid character that she created with HPU student Kira Foglesong.
“Nalani is using the computer more now at home herself,” said Tashia McEachean, Nalani’s mother. “She is using new things on the computer to make characters and write video games. This experience has helped her develop her thoughts and her story lines. She isn’t just playing anymore. She’s asking, ‘How can I make this?’”
“The reason why the Boys & Girls Club kids loved the program, and the reason why it was a highly sought-after activity, was because they were in charge of creating their own characters, their own heroes, their own villains, their own avatar,” said Heagney. “They were completely in charge of their own media content and that is a liberating and empowering activity. All of their playable characters are going to be available on Google Play for the children to download onto any Android device, with an Apple store download coming later. That way they can proudly show off their characters or play their characters at any time and place.”
He added that the experience was impactful for both HPU students and the children and offered long-lasting benefits. For example, some of the HPU students will continue to mentor the children despite the fact that the class has finished.
“For some of my students, this was the first time they were in roles of mentorship,” said Heagney. “A few were excited, a few were nervous, and some were scared. In the end, it was immensely helpful for them to be in that position of having that amount of responsibility.”
Hudson said the time and attention the HPU students gave to the children had lifted their spirits and improved their ability to talk to and connect with new people.
“Some of these kids have not bonded with anyone outside their family before,” she said. “The difference in their attitude compared to day one and the friendships they’ve developed is amazing.”