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The MiniDevs &

Games for Change: creating affinity spaces

In October, I was honoured to lead a discussion at Games for Change Asia Pacific on games for the classroom.


Strangely, I felt G4C was catching up with me in New Zealand. At the same time, it also seemed like I had come full circle with G4C because it has been so instrumental in shaping the work that brought me here. More than anything, I am super proud to contribute to G4C's ongoing conversations about how we use games for impact.

I started attending G4C in 2009, when it was a small gathering of game developers and academics. The entire conference occupied a single room in the basement of the NYU Science Building. As a classroom teacher, I felt out of my depth, but I also found the discussions fascinating.

It is impressive to see how G4C has grown, since then, to have a global reach. I couldn't help but think about my journey and reflect on how G4C has influenced my practice. The discussions I attended challenged and refined my thinking about designing relevant learning spaces for students. 


One of the most formative keynotes I heard was James Paul Gee in 2012, speaking about the importance of affinity spaces. I had already observed how my students worked this way in virtual worlds and online games I used in the classroom. By explaining his thinking, Gee helped me refine my understanding and ignite a passion for creating these learning spaces for students. 


In the recording, during Q&A, you can hear me asking developers to build these kinds of spaces. I laugh to listen to that now, knowing that it became one of my mantras over the years that followed. However, it paid off because I have worked with many excellent developers, playtesting awesome games and platforms with my students. However, I never dreamed a developer would actually build an affinity platform with my students. 


Jim Taylor and Theta not only took on my challenge, they did the unthinkable; they wanted to build it with client input. They didn't ask the teachers what they wanted; Theta asked the students! That blew my mind. No one had EVER consulted with my students in the pre-production of a product meant for them. It's weird if you think about it because what developer doesn't consider their end user? 


CEO Rob Lee explained to me that Theta does not develop in isolation. Theta believes it is essential to connect with the community to create meaningful products. It's so simple, logical, and shocking that it is such a unique approach when working with students. Both Theta and Newlands Intermediate have seen the positive impact of this strategy. Mixiply is now a remarkable XR maker space gaining attention globally. Its eloquent design was shaped by how students work, connect and collaborate. 

It is powerful for students to work with real developers, contribute their ideas, know they have been heard and have helped to shape and create an authentic platform.


Theta and the MiniDevs have collaborated on this project over the last six years. While Mixiply and MiniDevs continually evolve, the one thing that remains consistent is that we continue to meet weekly. The MiniDevs who have gone on to high school come back to join us. It is OUR affinity space. You can see by the promo they created to recruit new students what being a MiniDev means to them.


I'm grateful that Theta has invested in building something so meaningful for students. Imagine how we could make an even more significant impact on education if more developers took Theta's lead and teamed up with students to co-design meaningful products for their community.

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