Guest Maker: Adriana Moscatelli

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To mark the first anniversary of Tinker Tank, we invited Adriana Moscatelli, CEO and co-founder of Play Works Studio, to Pacific Science Center on Aug. 16 to chat and demo her team's pet-robot game which is designed to encourage children, especially girls, to discover a passion for science. Below, she shares thoughts on games, girls and the maker movement. Stop by Tinker Tank on Saturday, Aug. 16, 1 - 5 p.m. to chat with Adriana and the stuffed honeybee robots. (Tinker Tank is in Building 3 by the big Denny Way windows.) 

Something was missing, and it bothered Adriana Moscatelli.

After years in the gaming industry developing software and hardware, she began to think deeply about the dearth of women in gaming and technology. She started reading psychology research about why women don't choose careers in science. The reasons are complex, she found, but some of it has to do with stereotypes--and the types of toys girls and boys are given to play with.

We give boys building toys, she says, "things that help boys develop spatial reasoning abilities which are the important for developing math skills." Fantasy card games, also popular with boys, develop logical thinking, sequential reasoning and probabilistic reasoning—key skills in computer science and other scientific fields.

Trading card games, building toys and robotic toys successfully engage children in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and may influence their career choices, Moscatelli says. "But these toys and games, particularly LEGO Mindstorms (a popular robotic toy), are not targeted to girls. If you market it with a picture of the boy on the box, parents are not going to buy it for girls."

While working on the blockbuster trading card game Magic: The Gathering, Moscatelli noted that 98% of players are boys or men; Dungeons & Dragons, another popular role-playing game, has a similar gender profile.

But Pokémon is different. Girls like Pokémon. The cute characters especially appeal to younger girls, Moscatelli says, "but then we lose them because of all the big (social) pressures."

So Moscatelli set out to develop a science game for children—especially girls—that would break down gender and racial stereotypes while developing STEM skills and passion for science.

No small task. With inventor-computer scientist-engineer James McLurkin, she founded Play Works Studio, and gathered a team of scientists, designers, engineers, writers and a psychologist. They landed an innovation grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the game.

It revolves around adorable stuffed honeybees and child beekeepers. They chose a honeybee theme because the insects play a key role in our food supply and they're threatened by colony collapse disorder. Also, very important, in honeybee society, females are leaders--powerful and responsible.

The game includes a queen bee, scout bee, genius bee, warrior bee, and artist bee who is a boy drone. "We're flipping all the roles," Moscatelli says. "The characters and iconic images depict girls as smart and powerful and boys as nurturing and artistic." The beekeeper characters come from diverse ethnic backgrounds and are assigned various powers and talents that also defy stereotypes. 

Human children, identifying as the beekeepers, use a free app on a mobile phone to (drag-and-drop) program the honeybee robots to travel over tiles to collect nectar. The tiles can be arranged to make the game more complex and to include more players. It's recommended for children between the ages of 6 and 10, but tykes as young as 4 have gotten the hang of it.

The project embraces "the philosophy of the maker community which is about design and engineering and producing products that people want and serve a societal purpose as opposed to producing more products that are for consumption only," Moscatelli says.

She plans to soon start a Kickstarter campaign to move the game toward production. The goal is to launch the Honeybee Bots in time for Christmas 2015.

Meet Adriana Moscatelli in person at Pacific Science Center on Aug. 16. Learn more about Play Works Studio.