One of the great things to come out of #STEMchat was a friendship with Amy Kraft. She’s a game designer, writer, and producer, and co-founder of the Monkey Bar Collective, which you’ll read about below. She’s also mom to two cool kids and a champion of diversity in apps.
Meet Amy Kraft
You’ve worked in children’s media for a long time. Did you start on the programming end?
I started as an artist, actually. I moved to New York as a photographer and, thanks to graduate school, I grew very interested in the digital arts. After graduate school I was hired to do a short AfterEffects stint on a Clifford the Big Red Dog CD-ROM. I was soon hired as a producer, and through my years as a producer I’ve learned about all aspects of making kids’ games. While I don’t usually do any of the coding myself, I’ve had to learn what’s possible on all of the different platforms and in the coding languages used for the games I work on.
After working for and consulting with some of the biggest brands in children’s edutainment, you decided to start your own company, Monkey Bar Collective. What’s exciting and scary about having your own business?
The best part is working every day with my business partner, Sharon Bilman. She and I have worked together on and off for 15 years. Having our own business has allowed us to do two important things: choose the projects that we work on and make our own original games. I wouldn’t say it’s scary, but the only downside is taking the time to figure out all the business stuff without a business background.
Congrats on the release of MBC’s first original app! Tell me about it.
Thank you! The app is called Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunts and it’s filled with scavenger hunts for you to do at home or anywhere you go. We want to engage kids with their everyday surroundings. Your readers might particularly enjoy our Everyday Science and Backyard Nature hunts, where kids can go photograph things around the house and yard to explore science concepts. We also have hunts to make the most of time spent waiting in a restaurant or waiting in line, hunts that introduce concepts and vocabulary for zoos and museums, and hunts that let kids explore their creative side, like building a Detective Story through our scavenger hunt clues.
We’re also partnering with excellent organizations to take our hunts to specific locations. Our first collaboration is with Curious-on-Hudson, a maker and enrichment space. This summer you can also find our hunts for some special programming at the New York Hall of Science.
We’re on iOS now, and Android is coming very, very soon.
You’re vocal about the need for diversity in apps. What does that mean to you and why is it important?
For me, diversity speaks to inclusion both on the screen and behind the screen. I believe it’s critical that all kids have the opportunity to see themselves in the media they consume, and to be able to empathize with the stories and viewpoints of others. I’m so happy to be part of Diversity in Apps, an organization supporting the creation of diverse children’s digital media products through research, best practices, and collaboration. I encourage anyone interested to check out our newsletter and podcast.
STEM or STEAM? Why?
STEAM, and not just because of my art degree. Games and apps like the ones I work on would not be possible without the collaboration between artists, animators, musicians, and programmers. The artists need to be able to understand the technical considerations and limitations, and the programmers need to think creatively about how to bring the vision of the game to life. And isn’t everything like that? I think most jobs need you to flex both you technical and creative muscles.
What advice do you have for girls who want to make their own apps someday?
Play, play, play! Get to know the kinds of apps that you like to play and use. This not only develops your taste, it also builds your gaming vocabulary. There’s also an extraordinary volume of tools to make game-making accessible to kids. Make game levels in Super Mario Maker or The Foos, then work your way up to making games in Scratch. From there the world is your oyster. Pick a new coding language and start making! Lastly, when designing a game or app, trust your own original voice.