By Harold Goldberg
The mayor was listening. During an in-person meeting with New York City’s Digital Games Industry Council yesterday morning at the Microsoft Experience Center, Mayor Eric Adams listened to members’ opinions regarding the future of games in New York City. I am a member of that group, which includes representatives from the disciplines of education, game development, entertainment, and the administration, all brought together by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).
After a presentation that included MOME’s plans to attend GDC with a large booth, to create a compelling Summer of Games throughout New York City and to include game makers in the Summer Youth Employment Program, the surprise attendance of the mayor was announced, and he sat at the front of a large rectangular table made up of council members.
The Mayor’s remarks included notes about how he’s been into computing and games for decades and how young students who play games should be made aware of their use as educational tools from an early age, certainly before college and even high school.
The first to speak was Rudy Blanco, the head of entrepreneurship at BX Start, which is part of the Circle’s partnership with the DreamYard Project. Blanco made it clear that the new BX Start location near Yankee Stadium will be a hub for Bronx meetups and games education for our youth. He also kindly noted how important our games journalism class with DreamYard Prep and BX Start has been for students over the years.
Blanco passed the mic to me, and I impressed upon the mayor the idea that games are essential parts of students’ lives, and are even more important than he knows. I made the analogy to how important hip hop and rock concerts were to us when we were younger. That roar of applause and appreciation then is the same as that within a large esports arena now.
I went on to point out how our Playing With Purpose classes have changed young students’ lives. I mentioned Khloe Wilkerson from Mott Hall III, who joined us at the age of 12. Through our guidance, her talent, writing and interview skills at age 13 are now as excellent as any college senior’s work. I mentioned finding brilliant writers like Makeda Byfield at the Bronxworks network of shelters, and how Makeda went on to co-host our 12th New York Game Awards brilliantly before well over 100,000 viewers. But we have to reach out to students in underserved communities as early as possible to ready them for jobs in games and journalism. Because the competition is fierce, I ended with “Get them young!”
Tammy Levine from Microsoft had three notes for Mayor Adams. She said that members of the venture capital community should be part of the council. Regarding the Summer of Games, she said that she envisions it outside, in a farmer’s market-like setting. That especially resonated because there’s a great variety of goods at a farmer’s market, even beyond food. Immediately, I imagined an open space rife with free, small booths not only for indie game makers, but for game musicians, game narrative writers, poets, artists, and community groups from across the boroughs. Bring it to the lawn of Gracie Mansion, City Hall Park or Lincoln Center out of doors, and you have an eclectic group ready to be covered by all forms of media.
Mayor Adams took notes on a legal pad as each person spoke.
Larry Lieberman from Mouse talked about how difficult it can be for his organization, which is much larger than ours, to navigate the contractual system at the city’s Department of Education (DOE). I had to agree. Each school seems to have a different contract, way of doing business and guarded personalities to deal with, and some contracts are longer than 20 pages.
This comment resonated with Mayor Adams, who strongly agreed that the system was one that needs to be fixed. Later, representatives from the DOE acknowledged the snafus, and pledged change.
Finally, Microsoft unveiled a trailer for a Minecraft initiative for New York City called the Battle of the Boroughs. This student challenge for ages K through 12 asks participants to “compete to create the most inclusive future-ready city spaces,” and poses the question: “How can we create a safe, connected, resilient, and sustainable borough that moves NYC forward without leaving anyone behind?” The best will be invited to be part of a Minecraft esports event, but it’s not clear what the winners will receive beyond glory. (The Circle would be happy to offer some swag and tech items.) Here are more details for grades 6 through 12. Yes, you’ll get to meet a blocky Mayor Adams within the game.
It’s a tribute to MOME’s Alia Jones-Harvey and Anne Del Castillo that this council is convening with some regularity in New York City. Will our input mean a sea change surrounding the universe of games and organizations that try to thrive within our city? One thing is certain. Change begins with communication and ideas. Yesterday, both were present in abundance. We had the ear of the mayor, and the mayor was engaged.
Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the president of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.