In the middle of 2022, we noticed many curious new creations being made on dot big bang with “Arfbot” in their title. A little investigation led to the source – a Turkish education initiative run by Dijital Çağ Atölyesi (“Digital Age Workshop”) in Ankara, Turkey.
Arda Aslan is the workshop’s founder (pictured above presenting dot big bang at various schools in Ankara). We caught up with them to find out more.
Hi Arda. I wonder if we could start with a little intro information about the Arfbot Game Coding Competition. What’s the project all about?
Hello. I am Arda Aslan, the founder and general coordinator of Dijital Çağ Atölyesi (‘Digital Age Workshop’, in English) maker space in Ankara, Turkey.
The space was founded in 2017, and has reached 9,000 students with its work so far. Officially, it is the first and only establishment in Turkey that has the features of a maker space, hackerspace, and FabLab, and has been operating under the TOBB University of Economics and Technology since its establishment.
ArfBot.com is a safe search engine developed by Dijital Çağ Atölyesi for children in Turkey. The little characters you see in dot big bang creations are the Arfbot mascot. ArfBot serves many purposes for children, such as the ArfBot Game Coding Competition, which focuses on raising awareness about safe internet use, and supporting students to be productive in the digital world.
The competition was launched in 2021, and organized for the second time in 2022 with the Ankara Development Agency, a government institution, and using the dot big bang platform. The full name of this year’s event is the TechAnkara Maker Program ArfBot Game Coding Competition 2022. The competition was free to enter, and hundreds of children aged 8-14 living in Ankara province participated.
How did you find dot big bang, and what were the qualities that made you choose it as the platform for the contest?
People in the STEM field know that an important part of teaching coding, design, and game development is to constantly follow new advancements. We were looking for a new platform to take students learning block-based coding to the next level when we came across dot big bang.
The most important feature of dot big bang was that it was web-based. Younger children usually didn’t have their own devices, and were mostly using their parents’ computers or old computers that were left in a corner of the house. Those with their own device usually had only tablets. This situation made it difficult for them to have continuous, sustainable access to any platform, and constantly changing devices was a big issue. dot big bang was like medicine for this problem. A web-based and device-independent game development platform was like a dream that came true for us. That’s why we immediately added dot big bang to the curriculum of our game development workshop.
We saw lots of exciting videos popping up on social media in which dot big bang was presented to hundreds of school children at a time. What were these events all about, and how did they go?
2000 students were introduced to dot big bang for the first time. It was an amazing experience!
To explain the process of organizing the competition, we started by reaching out to schools, teachers, students, and parents via email, and held meetings to further explain it. We also reached out to hundreds of teachers in Ankara through social media, with over 400 teachers responding.
We participated in the two biggest festivals in Turkey to introduce dot big bang and the competition, and gave interviews to most important national and local press, including TRT Çocuk, Hürriyet, Anadolu Ajansı, TRT Radyo, 360 TV, and HaberTürk.
All of this increased interest in the competition, and schools began to invite us to introduce it to their students. We visited 13 schools and introduced dot big bang to over 2,000 students. The stories, videos, and posts that you see may not fully capture the excitement of that environment. It was much more than you know!
Also, the questions that the children asked about the competition and dot big bang were very logical. Children are very excited about game development no matter where in the world they are, and dot big bang is a platform that greatly increases this excitement.
What kind of reactions and feedback did you get from kids and educators who used dot big bang for the first time in the competition?
We were also very curious about the initial reactions to us switching to dot big bang. We organized online seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and students, which were a good opportunity to see reactions and take feedback and answer questions.
Using a platform that includes design, coding, and game development tools pleased students, teachers and parents. The curiosity at the beginning of the competition gave way to a sense of happiness. From this perspective, collaborating with dot big bang in this year’s competition was a very good decision.
How many entries did you get, and what was the range of submitted games like?
A total of 417 applications were made, with 228 submitted fully and on time. We would like to thank all the participants who submitted 3D dot big bang games based on the “ArfBot” character – the symbol of safe internet use. We hope to have raised awareness among children on both internet safety, and coding.
What was the process of sorting through the entries like, and what was the criteria for choosing the winner (or winners)?
The main criteria was that ArfBot must be the main character or theme of the game. The jury evaluated how well the message about ArfBot and “safe internet for children” was conveyed, along with the overall design of the game, and how entertaining and educational it was.
The competition jury reviewed games from every corner of Ankara, and met to evaluate the picks. The games that received the highest scores were invited to participate in the online final, where they introduced their games to the jury. after the jury evaluated these presentations, the winners received their awards. You can find links to all the finalists here.
Were there any big hurdles you had to overcome in using dot big bang, and teaching so many kids the foundations of game design?
There were challenges in explaining dot big bang to children of different experience levels and ages. For example, our online workshops used beginner or average-level explanations, to be fair to everyone. We were able to offer more advanced explanations where required, but we kept in mind that the process had to be fair.
Also, dot big bang’s version 0.9 update in October 2022 coincided with the competition. The change of UI meant we had to explain the new interface. After a challenging transition, the new version made the game-making process easier, and produced more successful games.
We are pleased that we were able to overcome the difficulties by communicating with the dot big bang team, who worked hard to solve these problems with us.
Are there any extra features you’d like to see on dot big bang in the future?
The question that children who used the platform asked us the most during the competition was whether there was a “block-based coding” tool. When students who are new to coding encounter text-based coding tools, instead of block-based coding, they struggle. Based on the feedback we received, a block-based coding system would make dot big bang into a good tool for education technology. Even in this form of dot big bang, we are very pleased to use it in education technology.
Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring game developers looking to learn more about game development and start a path into a gamedev career?
As a maker space that has been active in the STEM field for years, we’re aware of how much interest and momentum game development has gained in recent years. Since the day it opened, our workshop’s slogan has been “the meeting place for those who produce the future, not just consume technology”. Indeed, we have brought 9,000 children into the magical world of production in one way or another.
We follow their progress, and provide guidance on which areas they should focus on. For those who read this interview and are new to this field, our advice is to get to know themselves and their abilities. Game development is a long process, and requires patience and the will to develop skills over time. It isn’t a short-lived adventure.
They should follow new developments, and be in communication with others. Of course, everyone who loves digital production and games has a great potential to become a game developer, but whether it continues as a hobby or professionally depends on the determination and perseverance in that job. Thanks so much!