Arts Education: Why the new $100,000 NEA grant to develop an educational video game is making waves

With the help of the federal government, the idea that video games are mindless fodder for teenage boys is being challenged. Since the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federally-run organization that supports arts education, announced recently that it would be giving $100,000 to develop an educational video game centering on a black female alien superhero, a new conversation has opened up that is making waves over what constitutes art in the context of public tax dollar support.

New territory

The NEA-funded video game, called HERadventure, focuses on a world in which global warming is being caused by social issues that are attacking women, in particular black women, and threatening the universe at-large. To combat issues facing these women such as depression, eating orders, discrimination and negative self-esteem, the superhero HER enlists the video games’ users, or “superheroes in training,” to help save the day. The video game concept is the brainchild of filmmaker, digital artist, and Spelman College Professor Ayoko Chenzira, Ph.D and will be released March 8th as a science-fiction based, multimedia project that will include Facebook and Twitter as gaming platforms. The emphasis of the video game, according to Chenzira, is to educate young women using positive imagery of black women to get the message across in a fun way.

“What we do on Earth impacts the universe – not just pollution destroying the ozone layer, for example, but our thoughts and how we organize gender roles and social systems also have impact,” said Chenzira in a January 12, 2013 interview with Anna Breslaw from Jezebel.com, “Obama Administration Funds Educational Video Game Starring ‘Black Female Alien Superhero.”

Changing perceptions

In a medium where violence often plays a central role, some gamers are speaking out in support of the new video game concept. HERadventure uses the ARG mechanism (alternate reality games) players to “teleport” through the game levels using Twitter and Facebook to help the superhero save her planet serving as catalysts for positive change.

In a January 16, 2013 post by Girl Gamer Vogue in KnickLedger.com, “Obama Administration Gives Grant to ARG Video Game Featuring ‘Black Female Alien SuperHero,” there is potential in this new concept that can help the video game genre to evolve.

“This can become the beginning of a new way to create and use games for good in targeting and overcoming today’s dilemmas,” Girl Gamer Vogue writes. “In light of the Twitter Movement, SandyHook Shooting, and Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, just maybe we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.”

NEA Funding

HERadventure is one of nine NEA grantees this year that received the maximum grant amount of $100,000. The NEA has come under fire by critics since last year when it announced that it would start giving grants for digital media, specifically video-game design. With arts education funding being slashed across the country year after year, those who scrutinize the NEA’s decision to expand its funding to video games, say that the move to expand its criteria to include video games is uncalled for.

Bruce Edward Walker, in a June 13, 2011 special to the Washington Times, “NEA to Buy Votes with Video-Game Grants; Arts Group Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Bait Election Hook for Digital Prey,” argued that not only was funding for video games unwarranted, expanding funding to digital media was also an effort to buy political support. “I didn’t know there was a video-game shortage requiring government intervention,” Walker wrote. “With our national budget deficit featuring more zeroes than dots employed by pointillist painter Camille Pissarro in his entire body of work, and with Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback last week relieving a portion of his state’s debt crisis by zeroing out all arts funding, one wonders why the self- and crony-appointed arbiters of our nation’s culture would find it necessary to expand rather than reduce or eliminate this sort of boondoggle.”

New criteria

According to the NEA’s website, the 2013 Arts Media category now includes:

  • High-profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives)
  • Experimental, animated, transmedia, or interactive work
  • Performance programs; arts-related segments for use within an existing series
  • Apps for mobile or tablets (projects must be developed and made available for both iOS and Android devices)
  • Multi-part webisodes; installations; and video games

For more information on the NEA and art education, visit Questia’s topic pages on the National Endowment for the Arts and art education.

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