Miami team to compete in finals of AARP's Social Connection GameJam contest
Tom Myers and Megan Linard will compete in a live pitch at the E3 Expo (photo by Angelo Gelfuso).
by Margo Kissell, university news and communications
A team of Miami University students will compete in the finals of the AARP/ESA Social Connection GameJam next Thursday in Los Angeles.
The three students — Christian Coppoletti, Megan Linard and Tom Myers — will take part in a “live pitch” event at the E3 Expo, delivering their idea for an innovative electronic game for people ages 50 and older to help foster positive social connection.
The students developed the idea during a 48-hour game jam in April, and it was chosen from 28 submissions from universities and colleges around the country.
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and the UCSC Silicon Valley extension in Santa Clara, California, are the other semi-finalists. Each team received $1,500 per member to fund their travel to the expo for the final round of judging.
Christian Coppoletti will compete with Linard and Meyers.
The winning live pitch team will receive a $10,000 cash prize to be shared among the team members.
Coppoletti, a junior interactive media studies major with a computer science minor, called it “a colossal honor” to reach the finals. He has dreamed of visiting E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), but said he never expected to do so while in college, especially since it’s now an invitation-only event.
The GameJam is co-sponsored by AARP and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), with support from the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA). HEVGA solicited participation from its membership representing student game designers and faculty at more than 100 institutions of higher learning.
The team is part of the Miami University Game Jam Club. Bob De Schutter, Miami’s C. Michael Armstrong Assistant Professor of Applied Game Design and the club’s adviser, will accompany the team to the expo.
De Schutter said the students’ success is a testament to the quality and vision of Miami’s gaming program.
“We pride ourselves on developing our students into critical game designers and developers that thrive in new and innovative design spaces,” he said.
Bob De Schutter, Miami's C. Michael Armstrong Assistant Professor of Applied Game Design, conducts research in the design of meaningful games for older adults (photos by Jeff Sabo).
The GameJam is meant to develop ideas around how older Americans can connect through electronic gaming. The goal is to see how the games could potentially improve social connection by engaging them with online communities.
Games on the AARP website generate more than 1.1 million unique visits per month among older adults. A newly released AARP/ESA survey found 41 million Americans age 50-plus play video games on a regular basis. Three-quarters of them play weekly, with four in 10 playing daily.
Video games have become an experience shared across generations, said Michael Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of ESA. “As Gen X turns 50 and millennials raise tech-centric families, participation will only continue to expand just as games continue to evolve,” he said.
Tara Dunion, AARP’s director of media relations, said they were pleased with the level of collegiate participation in the GameJam.
“It’s great to see college students’ perceptions on how to foster social connections among people of all ages,” she said.
To maintain a competitive edge, Coppoletti didn’t want to divulge too much about his team’s game concept, but said it will be “fresh but familiar” to a large audience.
“It scratches an itch that everyone has but no game has fully soothed yet, which is why we’re not giving away too much,” he said.
During the live pitch, games will be judged on three areas:
- Functional aspects of the game, such as whether the game is engaging.
- Social aspects of the game, including whether it might increase the size of the user’s social network or number of relationships.
- Target audience and associated considerations, such as whether the game appeals to an audience of users in that demographic and reflects the tone and manner of the GameJam “Disrupt Aging” theme.
The team’s mission is “to capture the joy of an experience that a lot of seniors can no longer participate in, all the while allowing them to leave a legacy and forge stronger connections with new friends and family.”
Coppoletti said they came up with the final idea while looking over De Schutter’s research about 50+ players.
“He found a lot of evidence to suggest that older players want more than just Sudoku and Solitaire; they want to build new things, master systems, socialize and escape from everyday life into other worlds,” he said.
Update, June 2016: UCSC was named the $10,000 winner of the AARP/ESA Social Connection GameJam with its “Letters of Mystery,” a co-op gaming, email-based Escape the Room adventure. Miami’s team developed “Furrow,” a large scale, social exploration game meant to reconnect family members and capture the wonder of travel and discovery originally experienced at an earlier age.