Computer Science Video Game Camp

For teen Liz Brunsilius, WSU's video game camp offered a peek into her fantasy grown-up career.
"It has been my dream for years to make video games," said the 17-year-old Layton resident, who attended Weber State University's sixth annual Video Game Camp.
"This has given me a view of what I am getting myself into. It's a little tedious to do coding, but I've never felt happier."
Twenty-nine teens from 11 Davis and Weber County schools packed themselves into a WSU computer lab the week of July 18, for a crash course in designing and programming basic video games.
Weber State faculty members advised students, who were divided into teams, to share the tasks involved in creating games.
Popular video antagonists included interplanetary assault troops and zombies, said WSU Computer Science Chairman Brian Rague, also an associate professor.
"Some students think zombies are funny," Rague said. "I think if you were to go shoot something, it's OK to shoot zombies. We also get pirates, and space invaders are a constant.
"We get a lot of references to Monty Python and other things from popular culture. They are allowed to draw from whatever they enjoy and pull things in from games they have already played, or things they find interesting or funny."
The meat of the experience, of course, is learning the computer coding and software basics.
"Students don't always know they are learning when they do this, but they are picking up hints and tips about physics, collisions, interactions between different players in a game, and user factors, which are all important elements for designing any kind of software," Rague said.
"Software skills are in high demand, and along with having fun, the students are picking up significant skills.
"Several of our graduates from the games camp have continued learning in our department, or at other universities, and are pursuing careers in computers. It's not 100 percent, but in the long run, the camp really does positively affect all the students who attend."
Some "campers" go on to study graphics, Rague said. Some pursue other STEM -- meaning science, technology, engineering and math -- careers. "The state and the governor are very interested in increasing our number of STEM degrees," Rague said.
The camp also brought in a guest speaker, a game designer for Disney Interactive.
"The students were exposed to a seasoned professional in game design and the provided valuable information," Rague said. "They asked, 'What are your work hours' and 'What is it like to develop a game?' They got information they couldn't get any other way."
Paige Lewis, 14, of West Haven, attends Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering & Science, a charter school in Layton.
"I've played since I was little, and it started to manifest into an obsession," Paige said.
"I seem to be ruled by that part of the human brain that wants to know how things work. This camp has been the coolest experience ever, to make something I love. It is what I want to do, and I hope it will be my career. This camp is a good start."
Michael Beelek, 16, also attends NUAMES.
"I have tried to make my own games at home," he said. "This camp will allow me to take the next step with it. It hasn't been easy. I've stayed up every night this week to midnight to get this game working."
Asked about the allure of video games, Michael said they're challenging.
"Sometimes it's just fun to sit at your home and press buttons on the controller," he said. "It's interactive, and you choose your destiny. You act, and you are responsible for solving your own problems and meeting challenges."
Michael said he hopes his career will be in game design or robotic engineering.
Rob Hilton, WSU computer science associate professor, said there are always a few students who feel overwhelmed.
"Some come because they want to be in computers, but most come because they think playing games is the same as writing games," he said. "Some walk away disappointed, but others are really excited to create."
Weber State's computer science department also attracts lots of would-be game designers.
"A lot of them start out that way, but they find out they can do really well financially just getting a software or programming job. It fulfills that same desire to create."
Hilton never gets tired of seeing the excitement in students' eyes at camp.
"It's part of why I like teaching, seeing kids learn," he said. "They come in, and the quiet ones come out of their shell. It's fun to see learning take place."

Originally written by Nancy Van Valkenburg of the Standard-Examiner