As an Eagle Scout, I remember fondly — and sure, sometimes cringingly — my years as an teenager trying to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” The camping and hiking were great. I wasn’t so wild about earning merit badges, though — and you had to if you wanted to keep climbing the ranks and not get left behind — but boys today now have a new merit badge I never had the chance to even try for. At the SXSW (South by Southwest) Conference, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced a long-overdue badge: The Game Design Merit Badge.
The “design” part is important. Parents and Scoutmasters aren’t interested in getting kids to play video games — kids don’t typically need any incentive on that front. Rather, this new badge requires a Scout to study all kinds of games, invent one of his own, present the concept, then prototype it. It could be a board game, dice game, role-playing game, even a smartphone app. Catch that? Video games are okay!
This isn’t something they just whipped up real quick. They designed the merit badge’s requirements over a two-year period, recruiting game industry professionals and enthusiasts to create and test it. On the BSA’s website, they summarize the purpose of the new Game Design badge:
Whether it’s soccer, a family night board game, or a handheld electronic device—games challenge us to overcome long odds, tell compelling stories, and work with or against one another. Games motivate both young and old to find creative solutions, practice new skills, and keep their brains active. Scouts who work on the Game Design merit badge will likely look at the games they play differently and with a new level of appreciation. To earn this merit badge, a Scout is required to analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry.
Have a look at the cover of the new badge pamphlet.
This is such a welcome change. Some of those old merit badges are brutal. Most are sensible (First Aid, Camping), some are absolute fun (Archery, Dog Care), and some are downright boring (Citizenship in the Community, Personal Management). On the other hand, the BSA has opened up some new doors with our advances in technology. Two years ago they announced the new Robotics merit badge. Sweet!
There are more games in the world than there were 20, or even 10, years ago. I’m certain whoever championed the Game Design badge was once a Scout who found — like I did — that the Scouting system, and sometimes some of the Scoutmasters and merit badge counselors, to be a little too
stodgy old-fashioned. “You lose your sense, boy?! No way will there be no merit badge for no danged video game!”
But now there is. So if there can be a badge for designing (and therefore playing) games, what else might we see?
Give it a few more years.
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