How Amy Poehler's Smart Girls is empowering teens through gaming.

Have you heard of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls? Because if you haven’t, you really should.

Poehler is a lot of things — an improviser, a Red Sox fan, a mom, a Hillary Clinton impersonator. But she’s also a trailblazer. And there’s no better proof of that than Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, a group committed to empowering girls to be … well, whatever the heck they want to be (and to feel great being it).

Rock climber? Astronaut? CEO? Poehler says go for it, girl.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for TNT LA.

Smart Girls has done a lot of neat things and started many important conversations since it originally launched as a web series, Smart Girls at the Party, back in 2008. But one of its latest endeavors, Smart Girls Build, is particularly notable as being freakin’ sweet, as it’s using a video game rooted in the virtual world to inspire actual girls living in the real one.

In the Smart Girls Build series, Poehler’s Smart Girls teamed up with The Sims to let girls create their virtual selves.

Take, for instance, 13-year-old Californian Celeste Javier, who is the focus of the series’ first episode. Among her many interests are dancing and playing with her (adorable) corgi pup.

All GIFs via Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls/YouTube.

Javier got to visit the hub where the video game is created by publisher Electronic Arts (EA). In The Sims, users can create virtual versions of themselves and live out their dreams and aspirations (digitally, of course). And that’s exactly what Javier got to do.

Yes, creating your digital self is fun. But to Smart Girls, the new series gets at a bigger issue: inspiring girls to live out their creative pursuits, and finding the role models to help.

The Sims might only be a virtual reality to gamers, but the positive effects of playing it can seep into the girls’ real lives, according to Maggie Lyons, director of development at Smart Girls.

“Our motto is ‘Change the world by being yourself,'” Lyons explained to Upworthy. “These girls really do that in The Sims, and hopefully are inspired to do the same in their real lives.”

Just 26% of jobs in computing fields are held by women.

The series focuses on opening doors for girls who might be interested in merging their passions with technology, as well.

In another episode, 17-year-old guitarist Tcarla collaborated with a producer to create music in the game. Every EA producer in the series is a woman, and while that may seem inconsequential, it certainly isn’t.

“We also wanted to highlight female gamers and game producers,” Lyons said. “If girls see more women creating and participating in fields like gaming, they’re more likely to say to themselves, ‘Oh, cool! I can do that too!’”

Javier created a Sim that not only looked like her, but had the same qualities and passions as well.

Javier made sure her virtual self, or Sim, had the same traits and talents as she does. In her Sim’s world, there was a dance studio, which was perfect for Javier; she’s been dancing for nine years and is now in a competitive hip-hop dance group.

Letting girls know they do have a place in tech is vital, and we’ve got a (very) long way to go.

According to a study released last year by the American Association of University Women, a mere 26% of jobs in computing fields are held by women. When you look at engineering jobs, it’s an even more cringeworthy 12%. (And by the way, these figures get more dismal when you consider how women of color, specifically, are represented.)

Looking at the gender makeup at top tech companies confirms this sad reality, as The Huffington Post reported in March 2015.

“At Google, women make up 30% of the company’s overall workforce, but hold only 17% of the company’s tech jobs. At Facebook, 15% of tech roles are staffed by women. At Twitter, it’s a laughable 10%. For non-technical jobs at Twitter (think marketing, HR, sales), the gender split is 50-50.”

Yes, The Sims is just one video game, and it won’t solve this problem overnight. But it’s one smart step forward.

“People really seem to be responding to the positive message, how inspiring these incredibly bright girls are, and our encouragement of female gamers,” Lyons said of feedback from the Build series. “One girl even told us that Tcarla inspired her to start playing the guitar, which is awesome!

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