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Helping DC Students Level Up Skills in Preparation for Anacostia Youth Media Festival

MFA student strips down advanced courses to develop workshops for middle schoolers. 

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Hélène Lupa

Hélène Lupa started taking game design and programming courses during COVID. She had studied cinema and media studies as an undergraduate, but her internship experiences in the industry hadn’t satisfied her creative ambitions. She had always thought that the coding involved in designing games would be too challenging but realized quickly that not only could she handle it, she enjoyed it. In 2021, she became a student at American University’s Game Center in the School of Communication (SOC) MFA in Games in Interactive Media program. She was drawn to the program because, as a terminal degree, it qualifies her to teach in the field one day. She also liked that the pacing of the program would allow her to refine her work artistically before leaving the university. 

Lupa had not expected to be getting teaching experience in her second year of the program as the leader of a series of workshops designed to teach introductory game design to Washington, DC, middle schoolers. The free workshops are being held as part of the lead-up to the Anacostia Youth Media Festival, the first youth-directed festival in the DC area organized and held in the Anacostia Neighborhood of Washington, DC. Spearheaded by SOC film professor Brigid Maher and developed through collaboration with community leaders, the two-day event will feature a DC Youth Media competition screening. In addition to films, podcasts, video games, and virtually any other media you can imagine are part of the festival.   

In order to prepare the workshop curriculum, Lupa had to think back to her early days at AU, and then take the advanced-level content she had been taught and condense it for a one-day workshop. She talked with Game Center faculty who helped her decide what material and tactics might be most effective. Her method, she said, was to “First break it down to the fundamentals, and then strip it down to the most valuable content.” She also, of course, needed to use language and references accessible to middle schoolers, and then come up with a strategy to keep students engaged and productive.  


Game Workshop Taught by Helene Lupa
Game Workshop Taught by Hélène Lupa


She decided to have the students build their games using Twine, an open-source tool for telling non-linear, interactive stories, because it’s user-friendly for newbies – little to no coding needed – and it allows the students to save their projects and come back to them later, either at home or in a second or even third workshop with Lupa. The workshop focused on building good game storytelling, creating a “choose your own adventure”-style experience which can be leveled up as students gain confidence and skills. She hopes the students will continue to experiment with the software long after they leave the workshop. 

Lupa is also working on developing an intermediate-level class that is planned to debut at the Festival. It will be one of a number of hands-on experiences, from workshops to networking and mentoring opportunities. She says working with the students has been an enriching experience, and she hopes to be able to continue in her third and final year of the program, during which she will complete her capstone game project. The project, a fantasy adventure game in which the player is a storyteller on a tropical island whose quest is to construct the best story possible by talking to other island inhabitants and collecting all the elements of an epic tale, seems like it would fit right into the curriculum.