When Coy Yonce asked a room full of fourth-graders if they like video games, he got a resounding response:
Yonce, co-founder of Mantis Digital Arts visited Longfellow Elementary on Wednesday to talk about a topic near and dear to the hearts of many of them: video games.
"I have been playing video games pretty much my whole life, so I was about your age," Yonce said to the crowd.
The event also recognized several members of Amanda Christensen's fourth-grade class, who placed in Mantis Digital's 2015 writing contest. One of Christensen's students, Morgan Buenzow, will get to help Mantis Digital develop a game about ancient Egypt, Yonce said, as part of Buenzow's prize in Mantis Digital's 2015 writing contest.
Seated on the floor like his audience members, Yonce explained what his business does and why, answered questions, asked students for feedback and showed them some of the games his company is working on. Yonce said Mantis Digital Arts, a Brookings-based game design studio, is focused on educational games, primarily targeted for kindergarten through fifth-graders.
"It's all about providing a well-rounded education," Yonce told The Daily Republic prior to his presentation.
But instead of a game modeled after a worksheet, Yonce said his company prefers to develop games that use what students have been learning and weave it into the game.
"We like to design games that are fun," he said.
For instance, Yonce said Mantis Digital is working on a game about ancient Egypt, which he described as a mix of Super Mario Brothers and Indiana Jones.
"The idea is they get to learn about Egypt by seeing it," he said. "We teach them through the context of the game."
Student questions ranged from asking what Yonce's favorite game is-"Destiny"-to how long it takes to develop a game. Most questions centered on what types of games Mantis Digital Arts has developed.
Yonce said some of the other games Mantis Digital is developing feature the Olympic sports-he referenced equestrian and trampoline as event examples-and "Buzz Whiz: Bees," an educational game about bee behavior and food gathering habits. With the help of a laptop, Yonce gave students a look at some of the things Mantis Digital has created
Buenzow's other prizes from the writing contest were an Xbox One-she got to choose between a Xbox One or a Playstation 4-and some games to go with it. Morgan and a Rapid City student tied for first place in the contest. Buenzow's story was titled "Becoming one of the Wrights," and explored what it would be like if Orville and Wilbur Wright had a sister.
Buenzow's parents, Matt and Angella Buenzow, of Mitchell, were on hand to watch their 10-year-old daughter receive her winnings, and said they are excited for Morgan's opportunity to help develop a game. Yonce said his team has created the five characters in the game about ancient Egypt, but hopes to get Buenzow's input on what else to include-which artifacts, locations, puzzles, et cetera.
"I think it will be a great learning process for her," Angella said.
Morgan couldn't put a finger on her favorite video game, but her parents noted she likes to play "Minecraft," a game about breaking and placing blocks.
Christensen said this is the second year Mantis Digital has hosted a writing contest for elementary students, and her students have submitted entries both years.
Other Longfellow fourth-graders who won prizes from the writing contest include:
• Emma Maeschen won a $25 American Express Gift card for her entry, "My Trip to Disney World."
• Drex Martinek won a $25 American Express Gift card for her entry, "The Mazz," about an adventure to a distant planet to learn from aliens.
• Breanne Reindl won a $25 American Express Gift card for her entry, "My Adventure in the Grand Canyon."