Associate Professor's New Card Game for Kids Wins Positive Impact Award

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By Linsey Maughan

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Associate Professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies Carly Kocurek has received the Positive Impact Award from IndieCade’s Climate Jam, a festival of games held online from April 18–22, 2020. The award recognizes Kocurek’s creation of an educational card game called Happy Ecosystems, a set-building game for players ages 7 and up that involves completing ecosystems built around endangered and threatened species.   

IndieCade is an organization supporting independent game development through the curation of international festivals showcasing the future of independent games. While the events are typically held in person, the Climate Jam festival was held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The climate-focused theme was aimed at encouraging the creation of games that proposed solutions to help protect the planet.

Kocurek is no stranger to developing games with children’s education in mind. In 2015 she was on a team of four Illinois Institute of Technology faculty named finalists for the university’s Nayar Prize I Phase 1; their project was geared toward fostering early language acquisition for high-risk children ages 24–36 months. Kocurek has also developed video games for adults including Choice: Texas, a serious game about reproductive health care choice in Texas.

Kocurek says she was inspired to create Happy Ecosystems as she considered the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on families living without regular school and childcare. Happy Ecosystems is downloadable online so families can easily print and play the game at home.

“I wanted to make something people could do together without having special equipment,” Kocurek says. “I did almost everything for this game myself including drawing the illustrations. I'm not a serious artist, but I get a lot of joy from drawing, and the judges really liked the art style. Especially right now when most of us are spending so much time alone, and I think, understandably, having a hard time focusing, I was so happy to just complete the project, and then to have it recognized in what was such a strong field of submissions was really special.”

In the coming months, Kocurek will submit the game for inclusion in a few other events. She is also considering releasing a print edition of the game for those who would prefer to buy a physical copy rather than printing their own.

“I hope some people play and enjoy it, and maybe learn about an animal they didn't know much about,” Kocurek says. “I really enjoyed researching those, and I was lucky to have the input of a couple of content experts: Dr. Stavana Strutz, who's both my cousin and an environmental scientist, and Elizabeth Jardina, who is a writer and an expert on gardening.”