When Laila Shabir was a young girl, she longed for a community, a group of other kids that shared her interests. It didn't exactly work out.
"I've been in so many one person clubs," she said. "I would start a drama club and I would be the only member."
So when she founded Girls Make Games and its series of summer camps as an adult, seeking to end the disparity in men vs. women and girls in game design and coding, she created that kind of community and kinship for girls interested in those things. For one group of Seattle sixth graders, however, they won the opportunity to create something else.
Crystal, Gracie, Isadora, and Keira, all 12-years-old, were teamed up at the Girls Make Games camp in Seattle this summer, calling themselves the Sarcastic Shark Clouds (they just picked a few random words and put them together, the girls explained). The team spent three weeks writing, designing, and programming the prototype (in Unity) for their game, Shredded Secrets. Each team member designed a character and created their backstory, appearance, dialogue, and all the other elements that made the characters unique.
Shredded Secrets follows four characters as their lives intersect. As the game progresses, players travel through the characters' lives, face their issues, and help them resolve their problems in meaningful and productive ways.
The game will be created thanks to a Kickstarter that will let the girls continue to work on the game, hire professional artists, musicians, and programmers, and publish a polished and complete version of their concept. If fully funded, Shredded Secrets will be developed at LearnDistrict and published on Steam in spring 2020 for PC and Mac. The project is currently about $12,000 short of its $25,000 goal. [UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after this article published, Team Sarcastic Shark Clouds met their Kickstarter goal.]
Like most kids, especially those of us who identify as more than a bit nerdy, the girls have experienced bullying firsthand. Which makes their goal for the game all the more impressive — and heartwarming.
"I really want everybody to know that Keira and I think have gone through some minor bullying and we would still come home crying," Gracie says. But her concern isn't just with herself and others being bullied, but with those doing the bullying. "It's just terrible to think that people experiencing major bullying are doing terrible things to themselves and hurting themselves and putting themselves down. "
Isadora adds, "I really want people to know that we've all worked really hard on this game, to express something and help other people with their struggles and to help them know what to do and give them some ideas of what's going on in the other people's lives."
The maturity required for this — and how difficult it is even for adults — is not lost on Shabir.
"I mean they're 12 and they're talking about, 'we want people to not feel alone and to have hope.' They're really adult things," Shabir says. "And for some of them I know they've experienced some of it, but I don't think they've experienced a full spectrum, but for them to be able to project that far and have that empathy."
According to Shabir, that's actually a common thread in the projects that come out of Girls Make Games. "If they're not necessarily mechanically most unique or advanced, but the stories and views they represent... We've had anti-depression games, girls would make a game for, 'My mom has a very difficult time, I wanted her to play this game and feel good.'"
While the emotions and heart at the center of the game matter a great deal, of equal importance and the true focus of the camp is the girls' interest in coding.
For Crystal, she loves "that you're able to make something out of these simple language, that can build into something that people can use to make a concept of a game."
Keira also enjoys the development of something almost alive through the power of code. "I like seeing how you can just start with code and then you can put it together and then you can make something that other people can use."
Gracie echoes, "Yeah, I think I really like seeing all of the code that I worked on come together. And experimenting with fun stuff that my counselors may or may not get mad at me for doing."
For Isadora, "I just like making something that's sometimes cool and fun and it just, I made that. That's cool."
All the girls hope to go into coding or game design someday.
"And who has experience being a boss?" asks Laila.
Keira answers thoughtfully, "Does bossy count?
As this writer's feminist autopilot kicked in, I quickly add, "It's just leadership skills."
"Yeah," says Gracie. "I guess I have those, I think maybe."
UPDATE: On December 5, Team Sarcastic Shark Clouds met their Kickstarter goal. The project will be fully funded.