Our Year of Knowledge-Building, Knowledge-Sharing & Play

This year was connection-rich, filled with play, co-design, and co-creation, and carried by partnership and joy. Explore our favorite moments from 2023.

By iThrive Games
December 27, 2023

Joy enriches. As a connector, joy helps realize the 'we' and nourishes the 'us' that directs how we gather, steers how we imagine, and inspires what we create. 

This year, joy guided our work alongside young people, nonprofits, government agencies, school communities, research institutions, game developers, subject matter experts, and learning experience designers. With teens and our partners, we built knowledge, shared knowledge, and co-designed transformative experiences for teens supportive of their learning, mental health, and thriving.

Throughout 2023, partnership propelled impact and possibility, helping us and those we collaborated with expand it in places where teens learn and play. Collaboration and community-building were consistently parts of all we did this year— from our co-design sessions that led to co-created games and learning experiences to the conferences and panels we were part of. In togetherness, we pooled strengths with teens and others. We leveraged the diversity of our experience and expertise and those we merged genius with to accelerate progress toward the world we each yearn—one where young people have the tools to live full, safe, healthy, and purposeful lives. It was amazing.

In celebration of what the year has been and all that is to come, here is a look back on eight joy-filled memories in no particular order, as well as our favorite collaborative moments, and unforgettable highlights from 2023: 


At Playcrafting's Play NYC this year, an event that magnified the power of play and brought hundreds of game industry professionals, indie game developers, and game designers together to exhibit their games to players and peers, we shared an iteration of Cadence Ford, the single-player, text-based strategy game we created with the One Love Foundation and Playmatics, LLC.

Building on One Love's mission to empower young people with the life-saving prevention education, tools, and resources they need to see the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships, Cadence Ford supports young people in learning to love better, in being with partners who practice healthy Love and communicating with loved ones who are in unhealthy relationships. While New Yorkers of all ages played the game demo and shared feedback, teens, many of whom went on to become members of our Teen Hub, were particularly moved by the game's storyline, mechanics, and captivating 2D art. Read about Cadence Ford's co-design process and the forum for listening to and learning from young people we created at Play NYC.


For the students from Thomas A. Edison High School who gathered at the New York Historical Society with us, History Co: Lab, a graphic notetaker, and others in Educating for American Democracy (EAD)'s network in November 2023, the co-design workshop presented an opportunity rare in their worlds—a chance to share how they envision democracy and impact civic learning that supports the future of it.

Our Game Design Studio model at the center of the co-design experience engaged them not just as students at the end of learning experiences but also as thought partners in co-designing them, setting the stage for meaningful co-creation. The teens, who ended up devising and developing a prototype for a new interactive EAD-inspired card game created to inspire high-quality civic learning experiences by the end of the workshop, called it "promising," "progressive," "unique," "revitalizing," and "relief." Read how the model brought many across the civic education ecosystem together and what came of the teens' collaborative experience. 


Impact-driven nonprofits, youth-serving programs, and government agencies trust us to preserve their commitment to teen wellness and thriving.

This year, we launched Designing for Teen Thriving, a mailing list that gives people like them access to the resources and insight of iThrive's game designers, learning experience designers, and teen social and emotional development experts. Subscribing to the list helps individuals looking to create developmentally nourishing experiences and wellness-supporting games for teens (with us or on their own) ensure what they create meets young people where they are and supports their thriving. 

Join the Designing for Teen Thriving mailing list today!


The work of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery is as emotional as it is manual. Disaster Mind, the single-player simulation game built on the iThrive Sim platform with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 8, supports young people's understanding of it. 

This year, the FEMA Region 8 team soft-launched the game after one and a half years of development. 

Young people who've playtested the game have reported feeling more confident in preparing for an emergency, managing the associated stress, and understanding the intentional mindset that underpins disaster preparedness. Many also have relayed plans to turn their awareness into action, mentioning specific disasters and sharing plans to talk to their families about exit plans, emergency kits, and meeting locations. Dive into the Disaster Mind's co-design process and explore what teens had to say about its readiness and resilience-building play experience.


Also this year, as part of an exciting learning experience design project currently underway with History Co: Lab and the XQ Institute, members of the iThrive Games team had the opportunity to gather virtually with high school students from the Global Nomads Group across two co-design sessions. 

True to our norm of iterating for impact, the young people, hailing from several countries across the world, met with us to go over parts of the game-based, social and emotional skill-building experience we're creating, lending their ideas, feedback, and expertise to make it as engaging, accessible, inclusive, and resonant as possible. The play-filled meetings featured icebreakers, stretches, constructive questions, and Jamboards. It was an honor to learn from them while supporting their design thinking in the connective experience.


This year, the iThrive Games team was named one of the 32 winners of this year's Learning Engineering Tools Competition, selected from over 1,000 edtech innovation proposals submitted worldwide. 

The win and accompanying $100,000 Growth Phase award in the Transforming Assessments track enables our team to expand iThrive Sim, our playful engine that hosts, powers, and evaluates immersive and interactive role-playing simulation games, with new ways to measure and assess the teen social and emotional learning fostered in them while developing alongside others in the growing learning engineering discipline. We are honored to share this win with our software development partners at Affordance Studio and EdTech Recharge's Kripa Sundar. Learn more about the Tools Competition and the expanded iThrive Sim to come.


Attending game-filled, educational, and ed-tech conferences was an absolute favorite for us this year. 

At Games for Change, we learned tons from designers, researchers, and changemakers, and at ED TECH WEEK NYC, we explore how tech innovation continues to support access, learning, and workforce development.

Members of our team also had the opportunity to showcase our co-designed games at ED Games Expo and PLAY NYC and lead discussions elsewhere too. In March, as part of MA Civic Learning Week, we shared on iThrive Sim's transformative civic learning games for high school classrooms. At ASU+GSV Summit in April, our Executive Director and Chief Scientist Susan Rivers talked about the necessity of social and emotional skills in today and tomorrow's careers on an American Student Assistance panel alongside others invested in the thriving of this generation's learners. At NSLA's Summer Learning Summit in October, she joined the Education Innovation Stage with other thoughtful experts to discuss learning and youth development that can inspire, challenge and deepen summer learning. 

Each space we shared with others was carried by joy and animated by an eagerness to connect and collaborate with others eager to merge genius and create better systems of care and learning.


Access enables impact. This year, we opened access to our game-based, social and emotional learning educational resources by licensing them under Creative Commons. Educators and teen-serving adults who care deeply about young people's thriving can merge it with their work and expertise.

Each iThrive Curriculum unit, iThrive Sim curricular surround, iThrive Game Design Kit, iThrive Game Guide, and iThrive-authored PDF resource can be remixed, redistributed, and built upon. Dive into them!

Whether you're a teen who co-designed or playtested with us, a partner or collaborator who co-created with us, an educator who brought our resources to your students, a game designer who used our game-making resources, or a supporter who read our blogs and cheered us on, we appreciate each of you for the many ways you engaged with us this year. A heartfelt thank you for sharing in our vision of teen learning and thriving, and happy new year to you and yours!