By Harold Goldberg
One thing was clear from the start. Our group of students at the Mott Hall III school on the edge of the Bronx’s Crotona Park had the potential to be our best class ever. Earlier in the year, educator Ryan O’Callaghan put the word out that the New York Videogame Critics Circle would teach a weekly class, and each student’s writing would be considered for one of three college scholarships which we would offer. The response from students was so overwhelming that Mr. O’Callaghan had the interested young people submit writing samples before being part of the class, which was made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
Throughout our 12-week class, mentors Whitney Meers, Isaac Espinosa and I presented slideshows and videos about writing game reviews, a game-oriented poem and a game narrative. So each middle schooler will have to write three different pieces. That’s a lot to handle. The kids were well prepped going in, though. They already knew about industry issues like harassment and lack of diversity.
Many had something to contribute each week, and all of their comments were thoughtful and smart. Even the quieter students showed much promise when they spoke. This collegiality rubbed off on us, there were very few absences, and we were thrilled to teach each week. The class thrived. We decided to add a gaming laptop for the top contributor. Circle judges will decide on the winners by the end of the New York City school year in June.
Everyone’s reward for their great work was an appearance by our Board member and former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé. Prior to Reggie’s talk yesterday, the students had prepared questions. Everyone, even the quiet ones, were asked to pose at least one. Some had crafted a list of seven or more. The cache of queries was certainly enough to fill the hour.
Reggie spoke about his time as kid in the Bronx in a fifth floor walkup which had unwanted guests: “cockroaches and mice.” In detailing chapters from his new “Disrupting The Game” bestseller, he spoke about his rise to the top of Nintendo, and the kids hung on his every word. He talked about overcoming fears to move up in the world, which one has to do to navigate our complex society. This is the kind of mentoring that students will remember for the rest of their lives. Reggie, after all, is one of them, someone who lived not far from where they exist today in the Bronx. If he can make, they can, too.
After the class, they gave Reggie a round of applause, and Reggie promised to visit in person after the pandemic is over. Serenity, one of the quieter (but really smart) students, created awesome, artful thank you cards for Isaac, Whitney and me (see it below). The other students signed Serenity’s card. We were moved and thrilled by the keepsake, and immediately after class, we began talking with Ryan O’Callaghan about our next class in the fall. We can’t wait for that to happen.
Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the founder of the Circle and the executive producer of the New York Game Awards.