Get Out the Vote: GlassLab Goes All Out at the White House Game Jam


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GlassLab team, ready for action at the White House.
Last weekend, the White House hosted a 48-hour game jam that attracted over 100 game developers, all seeking to partake in the momentous event. Orchestrated by key figures of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the goal was to demonstrate the power that technology can have in the educational space and further the edtech initiative.

No finalists, prizes, or medals – just an enthusiastic crowd of designers, programmers, artists and teachers, all of whom sought to form a powerhouse of innovation while making truly awesome educational software.

Incredibly popular in the industry, game jams allow developers, both commercial and independent, seasoned and junior, to come together in small teams and show off their skills. With a short time limit, these game jams are guided by a theme and fueled by large amounts of caffeine, pizza, and snacks. Those who organized the game jam were clearly not strangers to the process and did everything in their power to accommodate the developers and enable them to do what they do best.

Everyone at GlassLab jumped at the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. and join fellow developers from around the world for the weekend. Among the other groups who attended were Rovio, Red Storm Entertainment, Sony, Playmatics, 1st Playable Productions, Magic Leap, Pearson, Crowell Interactive, and many more. While we all had the opportunity to mingle and share in the mutual desire to further education, we were also heads down and focused on answering President Obama’s call to action to create educational software that is “as compelling as the best video game.”


We chose to build a turn-based strategy game around the Electoral College. As the hours passed and our game came to fruition, we became increasingly confident in its power to teach and engage. We invited on-site educators and students to play the game to gather as much feedback as possible and take advantage of their first-hand knowledge in the subject area. Our time spent with educators and the playtests we conducted with students shed some light on an important aspect that is often overlooked with educational software: inciting conversation.

Our game resonated with teachers and students not only because it was fun, but also because it created conversation around the mechanics of the Electoral College and what it takes to win an election. We were proud to see students engage with each other as they competed for the top votes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, while speaking the language of a presidential election.

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All around us we could feel the same energy. Far Cry developer Red Storm Entertainment built a simulation that demonstrated the relationship between predators and their prey, and how actions they take can affect the environment and its inhabitants. A group of students from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University created a game where players graphed piecewise-function forts to protect their avatars from an onslaught of snowballs. Learning Objects, developer of the Difference Engine, created a game where players write protocols to guide a robot to his destination, teaching the basics of programming. These are just a few of the 24 games, but every single one made an effort to answer the call.

The game jam culminated with presentations at the White House. We were all invited to present our games in front of educators, students, politicians, and key stakeholders in the initiative. Each team had the opportunity to show off their game and discuss the specific subject areas they were emphasizing in the Common Core State Standards.

President Obama’s call to action is plain and simple: create educational software that is as compelling as the best video game. While this was the focus of our efforts last weekend, it certainly doesn’t end there. We’re inviting you to answer the call.


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