Master’s of Game Design graduate Owen Bell became the first digital game designer to receive a Public Understanding prize from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop and launch his game "Mendel."
In Mendel, players find themselves alone on an island with nothing but a few flowers. Using the power of genetics, they uncover vast possibilities of what these alien plants can become as they breed wild and wondrous gardens on a distant planet.
Thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s commitment to building bridges between science and the humanities, many more players will soon be able to explore the mysterious beauty of Mendel. Expanding on the Sloan Foundation’s existing, long-term relationship with Tisch School of the Arts film program, Master’s of Game Design graduate Owen Bell received a $10,000 prize from the Foundation to further develop and launch Mendel.
Mendel began as Owen Bell’s Master’s thesis at the NYU Game Center. Bell expanded and refined the game over the course of the year under the advisement of Professor Eric D. Brenner, from the NYU Department of Biology, carefully balancing the often-conflicting goals of creating a scientifically accurate simulation of genetics and a compelling game. In May 2016, he applied for and received a $10,000 award, offered through NYU Tisch and funded by the Sloan Foundation’s Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economic Program to continue to develop and publicly release Mendel.
“I started working on Mendel because I wanted to create a space for players to craft their own beautiful gardens and learn about the fascinatingly intricate science of genetics through observation and experimentation,” Bell said. “The opportunity the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has given me to realize that vision is thrilling. Both the Foundation and I are passionate about sharing a love and curiosity for science and I'm excited to be creating a work that carries that vision into the world of games.”
Previous grant recipients of this Sloan program include radio, film, and literature such as Richard Rhodes's The Making of the Atomic Bomb, NPR’s Radiolab, and the Academy Award-winning film, The Imitation Game. Mendel joins this list as one of the few games supported by the Foundation, representing the Foundation’s forward-thinking approach to raising public understanding of our increasingly scientific and technological world.
"We're grateful for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's longstanding support of students and alumni from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. We also are incredibly proud of Owen Bell for his oustanding efforts to create a beautiful game about science," Allyson Green, dean of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, said. "We are so proud to have a game design department within an arts school. Every day our students create bridges between the arts and technology, science, and beyond in order to create the future."
“We have been successfully supporting full length screenplays and both short films and feature films that deal with science and technology at Tisch for over a decade,” said Doron Weber, vice president of programs and program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “But our primary aim is to build bridges between the two cultures of science and the humanities and to meet young audiences wherever they may be. To that end, we’ve added television script awards at Tisch in the last few years and this pilot award to Mendel is a first foray into games and an opportunity to explore this hugely popular medium in terms of science and technology themes.”
Bell is documenting the continued development of Mendel on mendelgame.tumblr.com and plans to release the game in 2017.
The NYU Game Center is housed at the multi-disciplinary MAGNET Center in downtown Brooklyn and encompasses faculty from various schools across the University, including Engineering, Tisch School of the Arts, the College of Arts and Science, and the Steinhardt School. Since its inception, the Game Center has become a critical hub for gamers and students in the New York City area, hosting lectures, events, competitions, and business incubator programs. For more information, visit gamecenter.nyu.edu.
The New York based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, makes grants in science, technology, and economic performance. Sloan's program in Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience. For more information, visit www.sloan.org.