Mentoring for Google Summer of Code (GSoC) 2020

I mentioned a few months ago that I was participating as a mentor for Google Summer of Code (GSoC) for the second year in a row. This is now over for another year, and I wanted to follow up on that original post.

For those who don’t know, GSoC is “an international annual program in which Google awards stipends to students who successfully complete a free and open-source software coding project during the summer. The program is open to university students aged 18 or over.” (Wikipedia)

A Mentor for Catrobat

I mentored on behalf of Catrobat, the organisation behind Pocket Code and other open-source mobile coding apps for teens. As a mentor I supported a single student/mentee who was developing a game based on Metroid to showcase the possibilities of Pocket Code. It’s the first time I’ve acted as a mentor on a one-to-one basis (outside of my 9 to 5 jobs) – last year I was part of a group of mentors working with a group of students. At the start of the project I made sure that I was mindful of the fact that acting as a mentor is different to acting as a line-manager. The way I see it, I was there to support the mentee on the project they had scoped for Catrobat. I was there to give guidance, offer suggestions, provide advice, show them options to achieve the result that was needed, and act as a point of contact with others in the mentoring organisations (Catrobat and Google). That doesn’t mean I would wait until I was asked for help before raising my head above the parapet. We set up a regular weekly meeting right at the start of the programme in May. During the meetings we could talk about the progress of the project; the student’s plans for the coming weeks; where they were up to with their overall plan; discussions around new ideas, how to develop the project, and the best way to resolve issues; and any other support they needed. It wasn’t a conversation just around the game itself. I wanted to highlight broader aspects of open source game development and the game and open source development communities. For example, making a game is only half the work (maybe less than half the work) in making it a success, so I pointed them to a list of over 1,000 game developers to follow on Twitter, ranging from hobby game makers, to those working on AAA games; as well as talking about the value of game jams; small and local game communites; and initiatives such as Pitch Ya Game. I also made regular contact with my mentee between meetings, just to make sure things were okay with their progress on the project. And they were very proactive staying in contact with me, and discussing ideas and issues between the regular meetings. And after a few months of working with them, it’s great to see the fantastic game they’ve created in Pocket Code, as part of the GSoC initiative.

A Positive Experience

I enjoyed last year’s GSoC, and this year I found the mentoring experience just as enjoyable. I think it was also as much a useful learning and development experience for me as much as it was for my mentee.

Mentoring one-to-one with a student who was responsible for driving a complete project forward, from the initial proposal to developing the idea, and producing the coding, art and music for the game, was such a positive experience.

If anyone is considering mentoring, I would say go for it. I found it a rewarding experience, and I’m looking forward to getting involved again next year.

Pocket Code

Participating in Google Summer of Code

The Google Summer of Code (GSoc) coding period kicks off today after a month long community bonding period. As part of this initiative I’m mentoring a student working on a Pocket Code game project for Catrobat. It’s one of 12 projects Catrobat are focused on for GSoc this year.

In case you’re wondering what GSoC is, it’s a worldwide annual programme “in which Google awards stipends to students who successfully complete a free and open-source software coding project during the summer.” The program is open to university students aged 18 or over. Since 2005, over 15,000 students in 109 countries have worked with 686 open source organisations, & created 36,000,000+ lines of open source code.

It’s exciting to see how my mentee’s project is taking shape. I’ve acted as an informal mentor in the past, and I was also a mentor for Catrobat last year. But it’s the first time I’ve been a mentor formally on a 1-to-1 basis, & I’m really enjoying it. I was very happy to be asked to participate again. Being able to focus on supporting a student in developing their project by listening to their ideas, providing guidance & encouragement is a positive experience. It’s also made me realise that I know more than I thought I did! It’s also great learning experience for me.

I’m also curious to know what other people’s mentoring experiences have been like – whether that’s as a mentor or mentee for GSoC, or another profession or industry. Please add a comment below and share your thoughts.

Catrobat logo

Game Library Camp – #GameLibCamp17

Last weekend, along with Darren Edwards (Bournemouth Libraries), Sarah Cole (TIME/IMAGE) & Stella Wisdom (British Library),  I was involved in organising & running Game Library Camp at The British Library. On the day we had nearly 50 attendees from different sectors of the library community (public, academic, health, national, specialist) and outside of it. The discussions covered a range of topics, including:

  • running different types of games events
  • use of games for teaching and information literacy
  • the value of game activities in a library context
  • archiving games
  • virtual and augmented reality.

There was also a chance to play a few games during the afternoon too.

It was a great opportunity for people to meet up and discuss ideas with others who have similar passions. About 14 sessions were run in all, and to keep the conversations going after the event we have encouraged attendees to join up to the Games & GLAMs discussion group. This online group has a broader focus of games activities in Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums, but there are plenty of ideas being shared in the group that cut across these different sectors.

I led on 2 sessions on the day:

  1. Free & easy to use digital game making tools.
  2. Interactive fiction – what is it and why is it relevant to libraries?

My take on both making games & interactive fiction is that they fit perfectly into the core purpose of libraries as places to share stories (regardless of whether they are fictional or factual/biographical), and as places to support literacy/readers/writers. Games & interactive fiction can also be great ways to re-purpose existing collections held in libraries in new and exciting ways.

Free & easy game making tools

In this session I wanted to highlight that if you wanted to encourage people to make games in libraries starting out with game making tools that are free & easy to use reduces the entry level for game making as a starting point. The following tools were mentioned during the session by myself and others:

  • Inklewriter – create the digital equivalent of Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Twine – interactive fiction tool
  • Squiffy – interactive fiction tool
  • Bitsy – a retro looking game maker for creating story led games
  • Flickgame – make a game by draw pictures & linking them together
  • Scratch – used by Code Clubs. Build games by putting together blocks of code
  • Pocket Code – an Android equivalent of Scratch
  • Jigsaw Planet – upload a picture and turn it into a jigsaw that others can try to put together
  • H5P – this site provides a variety of web site plug ins, some of which allow you to create quizzes and memory games.

There are other free or low-cost game making tools available that allow you to create much more complex games, which are also worth exploring, but they are more complicated than the tools mentioned above. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Interactive fiction – what is it and why is it relevant to libraries?

My focus for interactive fiction in regard to libraries, is that most commonly stories in libraries exist within the pages of a printed book, but interactive fiction expands writers opportunities for sharing their stories in new digital ways. I’ve run workshops (using Inklewriter, Squiffy & Twine) on creating interactive fiction and target creative writers when promoting them. One thing I focus on is that interactive fiction fits nicely in with the core idea of libraries as places that develop literacy, reading, writing, and as places for sharing new ideas. Interactive fiction could be described as the digital equivalent of a choose your own adventure book and is the successor to computer text adventures that were most popular in the late 1970s and 1980s. I wanted to emphasise that interactive fiction doesn’t just have to be fiction – it can be factual and/or autobiographical. I’ve seen it used as a tool for creating empathy and sharing personal stories on subjects like mental health, cultural differences, and LGBT (much like the living library concept). It’s also a way that library services can re-purpose their collections. For example, making use of local history collections to create a digital story that brings a local area to life.

For inspiring examples of how collections can be re-purposed to create games and interactive fiction take a look at:

Even though all 3 are high-profile organisations, you don’t necessarily need to be high-profile to get involved in these sort of activities. For example, I’ve run online events that encouraged writers and game developers to get involved in making games with a literary twist – Alice Jam 150 (Alice in Wonderland); Bard Jam (Shakespeare); and Odyssey Jam (Homer’s epic tale).

I really enjoyed the event – it was a great opportunity to meet others with a similar passion, and to help develop the network of people with an interest in games in libraries.

And don’t forget to start planning for International Games Week @ Your Library (29th October – 4th November).

Free Game Library Camp – 12th August

I’m involved in organising a free 1/2 day game themed Library Camp at the British Library on 12th August.

If you’ve got any interest in the overlap between libraries and games (board, video, card, physical, games for learning, playing or making games etc etc etc) it’s well worth attending and will be a great opportunity to share ideas and discuss games in libraries with others passionate about these things.

Here’s the site for Game Library Camp with more details:


#Odysseyjam – an interactive fiction writing challenge

For Read Watch Play we’re running Odyssey Jam, an interactive fiction writing challenge focused on Homer’s The Odyssey. It’s open to all – whether you’re an experienced interactive fiction writer or not. The deadline for submissions is 27th March, and it’s been great following the #odysseyjam hashtag on Twitter – so many interesting interpretations of the theme being shared on there. If you want to get involved follow the link below. I’m really looking forward to trying out the entries one the deadline has passed.

Running an interactive fiction session at #Mozfest #Youthzone

I’m heading to the Mozilla festival this weekend and am running an interactive fiction workshop with Stella Wisdom from The British Library in the Youth Zone.

I thought it was a great opportunity to show the sort of things that libraries are involved in away from the library space. There are also a handful of other library staff from around the country who’ll be running other fun/interesting sessions over the course of the weekend, and I’m sure I’ll come away with ideas from other sessions that touch on libraries core role/functions – plenty of ones on copyright, digital rights, and informal learning for example. Plenty of other sessions with a more techy and creative focus as well, including robots, virtual reality, performance, coding, making and crafting.

Here’s some more details about my session.

Mozfest looks like it’s going to be fun.

Cultural Creativity: Events and Ideas

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few events focused on cultural creativity. The key ones were Creative Works London, Game Camp, and Guildford Games G3 Futures. All of them have touched on my day-to-day role as a librarian with an interest in the digital and the creative, and all of them gave me a buzz of inspiration.

Creative Works London Festival: “CWL is a London’s Knowledge Exchange Hub, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) over four years to bring London’s researchers, creative entrepreneurs and businesses together to explore the issues with an impact on the capital’s creative economy.” This was an event that showcased 143 projects that were recently funded as part of the CWL initiative. It crossed all of the arts, but the projects I was most interested in were ones with a heritage background. Projects such as Poetic Places and Lines in the Ice both partnered with the British Library, and made use of its collections in new and interesting ways. The Poetic Places project developed a free mobile phone app containing details of poetry and archive material of London on a digital map, with push notifications triggered by GPS. Lines in the Ice “focused on the 1845 expedition by John Franklin to discover the Northwest Passage”, and amongst other things resulted in the creation of a fictional hand bound diary, games and songs recorded and published on Soundcloud. The Play Your Place project focused on workshops that enabled communities to build their own platform game about issues that were personal to them eg their local area – attendees create the graphics and audio, and then build the game around them. So for example, Southend participants created platform games based on creating a bike friendly Southend; and Westminster participants created a game in response to Fire Station closures. I loved the way all 3 of these projects took original source material, looked at it from a new perspective and turned it into a new narrative.

Game Camp London: This was an informal unconference style event which brought together game players, developers, researchers, academics and anyone else who was interested in games. It was an opportunity to both discuss aspects of games and also play them. All of the sessions I attended were both fun and interesting. That included sessions about Twitter Adventure (a Twitter based Choose your adventure game); empathy for computer generated characters in games; mock games awards; a proposal for a game jam focused around space and Kennington; a discussion on useful game related books for game development courses. I also ran a session to get ideas about how to run more successful interactive fiction game jams in future. I had lots of useful suggestions, including…

  • Decide what your aim is – eg Is it to encourage writers to take up writing interactive fiction? or create new narratives from existing library/written material?  Show traditional readers that interactive fiction is worth exploring too.
  • Split the jam into 2 parts – 1st part creates the story. 2nd part creates the interactive fiction from that material.
  • Use different groups to create the 2 parts eg writers part 1. Game developers part 2. Target the places where they congregate online.
  • Giving a narrow focus to the theme. eg Something broad like Create an Epic Story isn’t a narrow enough focus. 2 or 3 keyword prompts are useful.
  • Give the creators some inspiration eg resources from the library.
  • A shorter game jam period helps people focus their efforts. eg 48 hours or 1 week.
  • Have a physical game jam as well as an online one.

G3 Futures Guildford Games conference: Unlike Game Camp, this was business focused and brought together local game developers and also the wider network of supporters. It was organised by The University of Surrey, UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment trade body) and technology law specialist Charles Russell Speechlys. Guildford has an amazing amount of high profile and independent game development companies in the area and there’s a real push to raise the profile of Guildford in this respect. One of the key things I picked up on was the need for game developers to connect to their broader community in the local area and spread the message/joy about what they’re doing. I’d be more than happy to help them connect with the wider community. How about a ready made community and new audience in the centre of Guildford with a shared love of the enjoyment of stories – traditionally books, but I know many are going to love those stories in games too. It’s a community that has over 240,000 visitors a year – Guildford Library. One event I’ve been trying to pull together is a demo day for local game developers, and we’ve also run game days, interactive fiction workshops, Minecraft parties, so we know the appetite for games related events and activities in libraries is there.

From all of these events I got a strong sense of how libraries could play a role alongside creative communities, whether that’s making use of existing ideas in a library context, or supporting them to help develop these communities and the work they are doing.

Notes on running interactive fiction workshops

As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams

As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

bardjam banner

Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.

#BardJam – a literary game jam writing challenge for April

Following on from last year’s Alice Jam 150 (an Alice in Wonderland themed game jam) I was itching to run another online game jam. So, the Shakespeare themed Bard Jam has been set up and will run throughout April. As Read Watch Play online book discussion theme for April is #BardRead and because The British Library and Game City also have a theme of Shakespeare for their Off The Map competition I thought it would be a nice idea to tie a writing related jam into other related things running at the same time. The game jam this time is focused solely on text based games, and can include interactive fiction, text adventures and any other text based digital story. Full details of #BardJam can be found here.