Natalie Griffith discusses how rewarding being a games ambassador is

Natalie Griffith discusses how rewarding an experience being a VGA is

The Video Game Ambassador (VGA) scheme, run by Ukie in partnership with STEMNET, gives people who work in the games industry the chance to volunteer to speak to school children, change lives and inspire the next generation of games talent across the UK. VGA’s can choose how they want to interact. Once they’re signed up they are only committing to one action per year, which could be half an hour talking to a local primary school assembly or an afternoon doing workshops with a group of secondary school design students. Of course they are free to do as much as they like – but they only have to do one thing.

We recently caught up with games ambassador Natalie Griffith, Founder of Press Space, about her experiences as a VGA.

I’ve been actively working with the next generation of game developers for nearly 15 years, in a variety of ways, and it never stops being anything less than incredibly rewarding. I definitely get as much out of it myself as I hope I give to the students I talk to. It started back in 2000 when I made the move from games journalism to PR, joining independent developer Blitz Games. They were passionate about ‘putting something back’ and we quickly established a programme of careers talks at local schools, colleges and universities. By 2005 this had evolved into the highly respected Student Open Day initiative. Over the following six years we saw hundreds of students pass through the doors, each of them getting a unique insight into life in the games industry. Inspiring the next generation, there’s only so much that one studio can do but as professionals in the games industry we can all contribute to guiding the next generation into rewarding and exciting careers. And we should.

Next wave I now have my own PR business and even though I work for myself, being a VGA STEM Ambassador has enabled me to keep helping the next wave of game creators. I’m also the Event Director of an award-winning games festival called Backspace. Centred on the thriving games cluster in Leamington Spa, it aims to celebrate the rich history of development in the region. Its driving aim is also to showcase the potential future of games, so we include a range of inspirational activities aimed at all ages, from pixel art character creation to RaspberryPi workshops and careers evenings. This year we’ve gone a step further and launched a County-wide schools’ game design competition. Teams of kids aged 8 and above are coming up with Warwickshire-themed game ideas that will be judged by a panel of experienced local developers. The best five will take part in a unique game jam in October, joining professional developers and game students to bring their ideas to life. Showing that every game idea starts in someone’s head and that there’s a host of different skills that must come into play to turn it into a finished game, offers an invaluable perspective to any young creative mind.

But you don’t need to organise whole festivals to be a VGA. Every one of us has unique skills and experience in the games industry that we can share with aspiring developers, regardless of discipline. The basic requirements aren’t onerous and we can all fit in an hour to join a careers panel, or a morning doing mock interviews at a local school, or offering some email advice or mentoring to an enthusiastic student.

After nearly 25 years in the games industry I can’t ever imagine doing anything else. I’ve worked with an endless stream of creative, passionate, energised and inspiring people – why wouldn’t I want more people to experience that?

Thanks for your fantastic work Natalie. Do you want to become a VGA like Natalie? You can Sign up here for free and start helping inspire the next generation of games talent now.

Follow Natalie on Twitter.