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Poplar teen seeks to ‘Change the Game’

Lily Cain, 15, of Poplar, talks about her recent trip to Los Angeles as a finalist in Google’s “Change the Game Design Challenge.” Her game, “The Other Realm,” is one of five being produced by Google, and Cain will be the lead designer. (Maria Lockwood/mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

Lily Cain tugged together her interests — the brain, other dimensions, eyes, nature — and wrapped them in colorful, lively artwork. Connecting them was a story of found objects, a tree in peril and recreating yourself from the inside.

“I think the things you use tell a lot about who you are,” Cain said.

The 14-year-old submitted the idea to Google’s “Change the Game Design Challenge” May 16. A week later, Cain was hyperventilating on the bus home from school after getting the call that she was a finalist.

On June 5, a production crew of eight flew in to shoot video footage of Cain at her Poplar home. By then, she and her family had realized this was a very big deal.

Out of thousands of entries, Cain’s game design was one of five finalists. She was treated to a trip to Los Angeles and a VIP tour of the Google office. Accompanied by her family, she visited a company that makes mobile games, experienced the E3 gaming expo and heard the stories of women in the industry.

“I will never forget this,” Cain said. “This is my dream come true.”

And it’s just beginning.

Google has committed to turning the games of all five finalists into free apps. Cain’s game, “The Other Realm,” could be available for download by the end of the year. The process will involved twice-a-month phone calls where she will work with the game design team to bring her story to life.

“This is such an opportunity,” said Cain. “I never considered going to school for game design. I don’t know what I want to be. Now, I have a whole new window of opportunity.”

Like the challenge that inspired it, the teen’s creative vision contains the power to “Change the Game.”

“One thing I wanted to accomplish with the game was an emotional connection,” Cain said. “I want the player to feel something.”

“The Other Realm” is an role-playing, adventure and puzzle game rolled into one, minus the violence.

“No blood will be shed,” Cain said.

Players choose their character, who wakes up with amnesia. They have to collect items that fill in their past while healing the tree they’re on.

“In some games, you can choose how you look,” Cain said. “In this, it’s already decided how you look. You get to decide how you look inside.”

She’d like to see a reckoning at the end, with consequences based on the character’s good and evil actions during the game.

Now 15 years old and preparing for her sophomore year at Northwestern High School, Cain has had contest opportunities before. She was determined not to let this one pass her by.

“I almost didn’t do it,” Cain said. “I thought I wasn’t good enough.”

And she waited until the last minute, sending in her questionnaire answers at the 11th hour.

“The thing that impresses me about her is in addition to having extraordinary technical skills, she also has well thought out, original ideas,” said Northwestern High School art teacher Charlie Hessel. “Obviously, I am happy that she decided to enter the contest, but I am not surprised. She has a lot of drive artistically.”

Parents Lynn and David said the trip to Los Angeles was surreal, and the scope of what Cain has accomplished is still sinking in.

“I always knew I wanted to create something,” Cain said. “I love telling stories, drawing, creating.”

Now, she’s the lead designer for a game.

Google launched “Change the Game” to get girls excited about gaming and aware of future possibilities in technology and game-making. It’s a chance to combat the gender gap in the gaming industry, where women are underrepresented.

The design challenge was developed in conjunction with Girls Make Games and the Entertainment Software Association. Information on Lily’s game, and that of the other finalists, is available at play.google.com/about/changethegame/#challenge.

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