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Understood.org and Games for Change Celebrate “Shaping the World for Difference” Winners in Annual Student Challenge

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For many of us, video games are an outlet that can transport us to a different world and provide unique and transformative new experiences. But for the 70 million people in the United States with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia, these games and experiences often aren’t accessible, inclusive, or reflective of their needs and perspectives. 

To help change that, earlier this year Understood.org partnered with Games for Change — the leading national game design program that combines students’ passion for games with digital learning and civic engagement. Together, for Games for Change’s 7th Annual Student Challenge, we challenged students to “shape the world for difference” by designing a game that helps players experience what it feels like to learn and think differently, and/or design a game that is fun and playable by everyone. 

Over the past few months, Understood and Games for Change hosted Game Jams across the country — New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, and beyond — to teach students how to make games. Thousands of students in grades 5–12 participated in these events and submitted original games that were accessible for players who struggle with things like memory, attention, language, and literacy skills. 

These games were rigorously evaluated by industry professionals and topic experts based on their gameplay, originality, use of theme, and overall wow factor. But more importantly, each game was judged on how well it raised awareness of differences and/or let players experience those differences. These games also included solutions for accessibility and usability, including:

  • Clear objectives for gamers who struggle with executive function

  • Font size that can be adjusted by gamers with dyslexia

  • Independent volume sliders to help with focus and avoid sensory overload

  • Practice modes and easy-to-find tutorials

  • Onscreen text that doesn’t advance automatically 

  • Adjustable game speed and/or pausing to help players take a breath and consider what to do next

We’re thrilled and proud to recognize a few of our “Shape the World for Difference” grand prize winners. They were recently honored at a Games for Change Award Ceremony and awarded scholarship funds:

  • West: MIXEDVILLE by Lila A., Taryn F., Kayden Y.

    • A single-player game where you must protect Gus, a lizard with dyslexia, by picking the right options that’ll lead to a good ending as you meet friends and enemies.

  • Midwest: ABOUT CEREBRAL PALSY by Abigail B.

    •  A single-player game that lets you meet Amy, a character with cerebral palsy, who teaches you the facts about the most common motor disability in childhood. 

  • Northeast: COMMUNITY by Nick L. and James K.

    • A two-player platform game designed to unite people through play, without verbal or written communication.

“We are incredibly proud of these G4C Student Challenge winners who created games that not only are fun for everyone, but also reflect the perspectives of neurodivergent individuals,” said Jenny Wu, Understood.org co-president and chief product officer. “These students are changemakers, and we’re excited to work alongside them to help shape the world for difference.”

The competition not only gave students the chance to innovate and use their design skills for impact, but also to combat stigmas associated with neurodiversity and eliminate barriers to help everyone thrive.

“Developing MixedVille taught us how prevalent and misunderstood hidden disabilities like dyslexia are, along with ways we can all be patient and supportive of people’s differences,” said the MixedVille Team (Lila A., Taryn F., and Kayden Y.). “We hope other designers and developers in the video game industry continue to empower all players by creating inclusive games that meet the needs of people who learn and think differently.”

Read more about this year’s “Shaping the World for Difference” winners and participants.

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    If Your Child is Struggling, Take N.O.T.E.

    As an educator, school leader, and someone with expertise in learning and thinking differences, I’ve always told families to reach out to the school and ask for a meeting if things aren’t going well. Taking action at the first signs of trouble was important in pre-COVID times — before school shutdowns, chaotic remote learning, and massive academic slide. Now, it’s more important than ever that families quickly figure out how to get the support they need for their kids.

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