Big Brothers Big Sisters recently brought together students and entrepreneurs as part of their STARTup SOMETHING program, introducing youth and mentors to the people behind Digital Dream Labs.

On Saturday, November 18th, ten pairs of youth and mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh learned the ins-and-outs of game design from local video game creators. This unique workshop was facilitated by Digital Dream Labs as part of the STARTup SOMETHING initiative supported by The Sprout Fund.

Matt Stewart co-founded Digital Dream Labs along with Peter Kinney and Justin Sabo. Reflecting on the experience of launching a startup company in our community, Matt says “Pittsburgh has given us so much.” It only felt right for these former college classmates from Carnegie Mellon University to give back.

STARTup SOMETHINGThe workshop began with a brief presentation about the history and background of Digital Dream Labs. Then, the youth, ages 12-18, were challenged to think like game designers while re-creating the classic board game Checkers. “As a group, brainstorm what you like and dislike about Checkers,” instructed Justin. “Now, think of your favorite elements of other games.”

Working with their mentors, the youth incorporated dice and playing cards into the game, expanded the game board, and instituted new rules. After agreeing on each new element, the team tested the change to ensure it fit seamlessly into their game. Peter explained how this strategy is used by professional game designers. “We created a video game – Cork the Volcano – with over 100 levels in less than six months, because we tested each idea before investing any more time into it.”

At the end of the workshop, the Digital Dream Labs Co-Founders demonstrated how their cloudBoard video game hardware developed from a great idea into a retail product. This allowed the youth to see the path the team followed along the way, which included prototypes made from paper, legos, and even an ice tray!

Following the workshop, one youth shared: “Today we made different versions of checkers which I really enjoyed… adding different rules and playing it in different ways. Her Big Sister mentor added: “The team effort was really nice…with the kids teaching us adults a thing or two!”

Visit to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and the STARTup SOMETHING initiative. You can learn more about Digital Dream Labs and support their Kickstarter campaign.

Published November 25, 2013