Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational individuals from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Svenja Anhut, Freelance Designer and Media Educator. She speaks about her journey from aspiring fashion designer to her current career in game design, where she combines her interests in games, culture, and education to create engaging public gaming experiences, workshops, and events, highlighting her work on the EZRA project that promotes political participation among youth.  Read more about Svenja here:
Hi Svenja! Can you tell us about your journey into the intersection of games, culture, and education? What sparked your interest to combine these?

I drew a lot as a child, preferable people and loved coming up with designs for clothes. That’s the reason why I originally wanted to become a fashion designer very early in my life.

Also, I got a taste of museum life during a school internship at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, which also had a fashion department. I went through all the departments there in three weeks and I found the museum education very exciting, too, back then.

Later, As a rather shy student of fashion, I was asked to organize the semester fashion show. This sparked my interest in organizing events. Even though fashion design and the fashion world were not for me after all, this experience remained an important point on my path to my current career.

When I switched courses to my game design studies, I got hooked by prototyping games with pen and paper or as street games when I attended my first Game Jam organized by students from another school. Exchanging ideas and experiences with others, especially those who also studied in the same field motivated me to join their group. So, I organized analogue game jams with these friends from other schools and we created the Gamestorm e.V. We designed small analoge Street Games in our events which we for example showcased at the early public A MAZE. events. Seeing people playing your game and understanding your intention was magical for me. Also, I liked the challenge to bring people fast into playing a game and not read papers and papers of rules first.

Fascinated by these game culture events and I became part of the A MAZE organization team and still am a part of it. Through the game jams, I gained my first workshop experience with students, adults and soon also kids and also first experiences in designing games for public events.

So, one thing led to the other and after graduating, I became a freelance museum educator for the Computer Games Museum and then more different opportunities came. This was a good starting point for the combination of games, culture and education in my career.

Your work involves creating concepts and content for public gaming experiences, jams, and workshops. Could you share a memorable project where you saw the impact of your work on participants’ learning or engagement?

One project I am particularly proud of is EZRA, a project of the Kinder und Jugend Filmverein (kijufi). I was involved in the EZRA project from 2021. The aim was to develop a point & click adventure on the topic of political participation for 9 to 12-year-olds with young people from Berlin Neukölln and Fürstenwalde. In the development workshops, we also made sure that the young participants (aged 14 and over) had contact with regional and senior politicians from various parties and gained an insight into how it is possible to get involved in politics at their age. This not only had the effect of research, but also led to at least one person subsequently joining a political party themselves and the young people understanding more that they can already contribute.

In addition to the actual work on the game ideas and content, it was nice to see how young people from the big city met young people from a small town. I mainly looked after the teenagers from Fürstenwalde and my colleague Max Neu looked after those from Berlin. We initially met on site in the individual groups and then also met a lot via Discord. Later, there were joint meetings in Berlin. I went there by train with my group and some of them had rarely or never been to Berlin city center like that before. And in the other group there were young people who had never really left Neukölln.

One of the best conversations that highlighted these different living environments was this: A young person said that Fürstenwalde is surrounded by forest. A Neukölln teenager replied that he also had a forest on his doorstep. When I then asked where it was on Sonnenallee, he said: “Well, there are a few trees on a small traffic island”.

So, in addition to the actual content-related work on the game for a younger target group, this project also brought a lot to the participants. The game itself is available free of charge and is primarily intended for use in schools. The final development was completed with the help of the game studio Tiny Crocodile Studios. However, the teenagers were repeatedly asked for their opinion, especially for graphic decisions and texts.

Last year, we held a youth camp for new ideas in the Ezra universe in Turkey. Our partner here was the Goethe Institute in Ankara, who thought the Ezra game was a great way for their Turkish youngsters to learn German and were therefore interested in working together. Ezra is a character with a Turkish migration background, but who grew up in Germany. This was a great starting point for developing game ideas with young Germans and Turks about what they would experience in Turkey during a visit. We had almost a full two weeks and it really was a very memorable camp.

In the rapidly evolving fields of gaming, culture, and education, how do you ensure that your concepts and content remain relevant and adaptable to changing trends and audience needs?

When new topics are brought to me, I think about how I can develop a meaningful way of communicating them or how I can create ideas for games and or workshop formats. Of course, this involves a lot of research, sometimes also attending events, talking to experts or the target groups involved.

A lot of it is learning by doing. For example, in my media education work for the Junge Tüftler*innen, they come to me with material and content and ask if I have the confidence to do it. As I like to think outside the box and am curious, I always try to work my way in. One of the most distant topics from my other work is quantum communication and quantum computing. However, as they use some game-based tools, I still have a good starting point, even if I’m not that deep into the physical background. With something like this, however, it’s always important for me to work with colleagues who can cover the other part better. The mix is important.

Apart from that, I’m always looking for new tools and methods for creative work with participants and also to create something myself. This is sometimes really necessary, for example when you have participants returning every year in partnerships and you have to offer something fresh.

Thanks for this interview, Svenja!

Svenja’s links: LinkedIn, website

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger