100 Years, 100 Women: Jo Twist

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Jo Twist

Holly Gardner

Holly Gardner is TT Editor, as well as a Freelance Publisher. She has been working with @TeacherToolkit for over 6 years - since she published his first book in her role as Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing. Since then, she left her day job,...
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Why should students be making video games in the classroom?

I like to ask my interviewees for the 100 women series to “Name 3 famous women, dead or alive, who you would like to invite to a dinner party.” Jo Twist, my eighth interview for the series, asked me “Can they be fictional characters? In that case I choose Lara Croft (from the video game Tomb Raider), Claire Underwood (Robin Wright’s character in House of Cards) and Khaleesi (from Game of Thrones)”.

This was going to be a good interview!

Why video games?

Jo Twist is CEO of UKIE the trade body that represents, advocates and promotes the UK Games Business and she sits on the committee that oversees games at BAFTA including the BAFTA Young Game Designers initiative. The initiative includes a competition for children aged between 10-18 years old to create, develop and present their game idea. The winners are announced at a special awards ceremony and receive a host of prizes.

I wanted to know why she thought BAFTA Young Game Designers was so important. Jo spoke passionately about why making video games needs to be promoted in our classrooms as a fulfilling job, something that the competition helps to do. “Making games involves so many different skills – art, sound design, music, writing, maths, physics and programming. It gets young people working together, thinking creatively and problem solving.”

Jo has had an impressive career. After completing a doctorate in virtual communities, she become a technology journalist at the BBC, working up the ranks there before moving to Channel 4 to become Education Commissioner. “That’s where we commissioned games because we knew video games were the best way to educate people and get their attention.”

In her current role, she talks to lots of students: “I think lots of young people assume that the video games industry is all boys and men and it’s really important that we are putting people in front of them who look like them or sound like them or who they can relate to.”

In fact, of the four winners at the BAFTA Young Game Designers Awards last year, three of them were girls. What made the winners stand out? It was the characters and the ideas and the social purpose of the games, covering topics like mental health and politics.

It gave me a lot of hope that young people see games as a way to express their ideas about the world. And to be able to figure out their place in the world – it’s not just films and documentaries or dramas that do that, it’s also games – it’s as an important format.

The future of education

It was clear that Jo feels really passionate about education. When I asked her what she’d like to see change in the UK education system, without taking a breath she asserted “I would release the pressure on teachers”. She also wants to see more play-based learning deployed in schools and children making games. “Making a video game brings together so many different people – it’s not just all about being a programmer, it’s about being an artist, a storyteller.”

I asked Jo if she ever considered becoming a teacher: “I did! “My mum was a teacher so I have a lot of understanding of how hard it is and how undervalued teachers and educators can be”. In the end she decided against it because she felt she didn’t have the patience and or the nerve to speak in schools: “I can speak in front of 300 industry people but 300 young people is a different story – it’s terrifying!”

How to teach computing

So, how can we encourage the young people in our classrooms into the video game industry, especially girls? Helping teachers to understand that they don’t have to be technical to understand how to get people making games: “You can look at programmes like Digital School House and there are lovely ways of using paper-based techniques to teach creating algorithms.”

“I think it’s about demystifying it – every single child in your classroom will have something that they can give to a game idea.”

Resilience is key

I finished the interview with a few quick fire questions:

  • Her biggest career achievement to date? “Winning an Emmy Award.” (Wow)
  • What’s she reading? “Artemis by Andy Weir which has a great female lead.”
  • Who should I interview for the series next? “Martha Lane Fox” (I would LOVE to!)

And finally – what qualities does she requires to be successful in her job?

Resilience (lots of that), listening to others and being prepared for the unexpected. I didn’t expect to be CEO of a trade body and no one knows how to do that but you just do it but if you keep those core principles of integrity, resilience and expect for the unexpected – you’ll get there.

Entries for this year’s BAFTA Young Game Designers competition close on 25th April, but teachers can download free online year-round resources, and sign-up to receive details for next year’s competition, here.

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