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Bridget Ellis-Pegler and Ronel Schodt on The Zingoshi Chronicles and integrating STEAM and entertainment (listen)

Top image: Bridget Ellis-Pegler and Ronel Schodt

An interactive fantasy world for tween and pre-teens from ages 7-12, “Planet Zingoshi” is designed to help kids become creative leaders by emphasising STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). At its heart is The Zingoshi Chronicles, a transmedia project created by two New Zealand entrepreneurs that comprises books, video games and, eventually, a TV series.

The launch begins with the release of Dragonfly, the first illustrated novel of the series that is enhanced by augmented reality (AR). A computer game is to follow in mid-May.

The project is the brainchild of Auckland writer Bridget Ellis-Pegler and business partner Ronel Schodt, who wanted to create entertaining content for girls that would teach them values such as self-belief, leadership and compassion.

Ellis-Pegler and Schodt say the project is eight years in the making. Along the way, they’ve had the support of business leaders and investors such as Theresa Gattung, Dame Julie Christie, Cecilia and James Robinson, and even Callaghan Innovation.

“We went into this because as mothers we saw a gap in the market; looking for material for our children we couldn’t find games we thought were suitable,” explains Ellis-Pegler. “So much of what we found was pink and fluffy and fairy-princessy, while young adolescent material focused on dating and fashion.”

Thus the pair, who met when Ellis-Pegler was a television scriptwriter and Schodt a TV producer, decided to create their own material. “The first time we went looking for funding we were told investors are not interested in anything for girls,” says Schodt.

But the games industry liked what the pair were doing, and the New Zealand Games Developers Association (NZGDA) awarded scholarships to promote the concept at the 2016 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and Ellis-Pegler won a scholarship for ART Venture in 2016-17.

Soon after, The Zingoshi Chronicles got its wings when well-known entrepreneurs started investing. Callaghan Innovation funded technical research and development, and others brought their expertise to the project.

The Zingoshi Chronicles, featuring the characters Sylvie and Willabella, revolves around a quest to find the next leaders of Zingoshi. The pair, and others who will be brought into the story as the chronicles develop, are set tasks and challenges.

The project aims to integrate off-screen tasks, involving a range of STEAM activities, where the player must leave the computer to complete off-screen tasks as part of the gameplay. As Ellis-Pegler and Schodt explain, it’s using tech to get young people off tech.

Theresa Gattung, the well-known New Zealand businessperson, author an philanthropist, says girls need to grow up seeing other girls reflected back to them as courageous, awesome, joyful human beings. “I invested in the Zingoshi project because I want to see it created for girls,” she says.

Dame Julie Christie says she loves unique, creative opportunities – and we don’t see enough of them in this country. “The mission to create intelligent and highly engaging content for girls resonated with me,” she says. “A property that is developed over multiple platforms and which incorporates augmented reality technology is exciting to me as an investor.”

Cecilia Robinson, multiple award winner, successful entrepreneur and founder and creator of My Food Bag and Au Pair Link, says something similar. “It’s clear to us that there is a gap in the market and that combining technology with empowering children, in particular young girls, is not only a fantastic thing but also very important in today’s society,” she says. “The Zingoshi Chronicles also promotes and guides girls to become creative leaders and we’re big believers in the value of creative leadership.”

Have a listen to what Ellis-Pegler and Schodt have to say about the project, the importance integrating STEAM with entertainment, letting kids be kids, their journey thus far, what comes next, tips for other entrepreneurs, and more.

Check out this podcast with Runaway’s Zoe Hobson and Emma Johansson on VR, feminism and gaming in New Zealand:

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