The BGI has run Pixelheads after-school and weekend clubs in schools, libraries and hospitals in Nottingham and Sheffield, and, since Covid-19, online.

These clubs are for young people and families to make, discuss and play videogames together. Courses develop children’s understanding of games design, art, narrative and coding with gentle introductions to development techniques and accessible technologies.

We developed these to respond to demand from our community, especially teachers and parents visiting the National Videogame Museum and its predecessor, for courses and clubs. We’ve run scores of sessions in different locations for hundreds of children.

Pixleheads online
Before lockdown, we were gearing up to rerun Pixelhead clubs in person, but Covid changed everything. In late March 2020, a few days after lockdown we started releasing online training materials in our NVM at Home programme. Thousands have downloaded our materials and we are proud to have won a Kids in Museums award.

In July 2020, we started a virtual Saturday club running throughout the summer, with weekly live streamed sessions on the NVM’s YouTube channel.  These have now been watched by thousands of families. Most of our highly engaged viewers watched our 45-60 minute videos to the end, with a really active comment stream.

During these livestream sessions, participants made videogames collaboratively, took part in quizzes, had a go at coding and explored the history of videogames through the NVM’s collection. We interviewed special guests including Special Effect, the charity specialising in developing and producing accessible gaming technologies for people with disabilities, and one winner of this year’s BAFTA Young Games Designer competition.

Impact & Feedback
Videogames have been an important part of life for many during lockdown (as recommended by the World Health Organisation), providing a fun escape, valuable social time with friends and family, and engaging learning opportunities for all ages. Through Pixelheads, we wanted to engage young people’s enthusiasm for games and explore this subject in new and creative ways, providing a safe social space to explore common interests and share ideas, at a time when many young people have missed their classmates and communities while at home.

Throughout 6 livestreamed sessions, we have seen young people and their families return each week, talking about their experiences, sharing examples of their creativity and suggesting activities for the next session. At the time of writing, the 6 livestreams have been viewed over 600 times with a watch time of over 270 hours. The livestreams triggered  hundreds of comments from those taking part, with the busiest session reaching over 700 comments. Each live session was ‘attended’ by 20 – 30 families on average.

After the final session we sent a qualitative survey to the families who took part to gather feedback. The feedback received was extremely positive and demonstrated that families who engaged had appreciated the community aspect of pixelheads. The collaborative and social nature of the virtual saturday club was highlighted consistently within the feedback and within the livestream comments. Others stated they had taken part for fun and to learn more about games. In particular, one family found the sessions helpful for engaging with their children over a shared interest in games.

Pixelheads even inspired one young person to create their own Youtube tutorials for Bitsy, a free videogame creation tool we used during the livestreams. They continued using the skills explored during Pixelheads to make their own game in Roblox Studio.

“Thanks for an amazing Pixelheads club today – the kids really enjoyed it and I expect we’ll be making a lot of bitsy games over the next week.” Kath on JustGiving.

“Children could learn and engage with other young people during lockdown.” Anonymous family, BGI survey

“[They] enjoyed hearing what other people have been playing… a nice community for kids”. Anonymous parent, BGI survey

Pixelheads made “a very strange summer much more entertaining”. Parent on Twitter

his Dad is making his first videogame. She [our 6 year old] wanted to start learning so she can make one too.” Parent on Twitter