Subversive Game Takes Home Top Prize in 2012 NMTF Pitch Competition

Maria Hwang, a Columbia Teachers College student, entered her idea for an interactive game to teach children better eating habits at last year’s pitch competition.  Monster Appetite had been prototyped as a board game, but her idea for turning the board game into an app took first place. Click here to learn about #PitchTech4Dev and enter your own team for the 2013 competition:

Monster Appetite: A Subversive Approach to Teaching Good Eating Habits

By Maria Hwang (LinkedIn)

Around this time last year I heard about a competition that peaked my interest. Previously at Teachers College, Columbia University, I have taken a class called ‘Video Games and Education’ with Professor Joey Lee and its final project was to create a game from scratch. Three colleagues and I got together and tossed around ideas till we landed on a decision to make one that addresses the current obesity epidemic in this country and the rest of the world. Keeping the design principles and game mechanics as we have learned in the class in mind, we thought about engagement, fun, education, generalizability, reproduction, commercial potential, development and innovation. Hence, our game Monster Appetite (MA) was created. MA is a game that potentially remediates some aspects of the concern by promoting awareness of the content of food consumed by children. Through play, children learn about caloric amount in various food items that a child may select and intake daily. Through constant decision making and competitive game play, the hope is that children will start thinking more about their food choices with newly obtained information of the food items and be able to make informed decisions such as building healthier eating and exercise habits.

When I walked into the room at SIPA last year as one of the final contestants of the Innovating Mobile Technology for Development Pitch Competition I was quite nervous as it was my first time ever in such a competition alone with no familiar faces. Other people were members of a team and each member seemed to know people outside of their team members. Although I was there alone, it was not my first time standing up in front of many people all staring at me as I have taught before in classrooms. The competition itself only allowed a five-minute pitch with a 10 to 15 minute Q&A session to follow. Once I was up at the podium it was my time and my gig. I took advantage of that time and introduced how in our game you want to take the subversive approach and make your monster avatar as fat as possible by consuming the highest caloric items in the deck. You see the consequences of overeating and you think about real life consequences if you were to do that to your own body. Judges as well as the audience seemed like they were on board with the subversive approach. They thought the humorous touch was innovative, fresh and unheard of. That is what we were aiming for and sure enough I took the first prize!

One of the most interesting things that I received as a feedback from the judges that day was how my idea was the only one that has actually been tested out. The judges loved all the brilliant and innovative ideas that were presented to them that day, but an idea is worthless till it is made into something tangible. And one way to make an idea tangible is to develop a prototype and beta-test it and test it and test it again. I have informally tested out my tabletop game with numerous students ranging from the elementary to graduate school level. The feedback I received from those informal testing sessions pushed me further to develop this game and consider making it into a mobile app, which is why my game fit into the competition’s intention well.