For the last six years, Michigan State University has hosted a variety of summer camps for middle and high school students that focus on a range of media and technology. This includes the game design camps, where students develop software and design skills in a college course adapted for middle or high school students.
Both, the middle and high school game design camps are one week long. Students can choose to commute, if they are from the local Lansing area, and attend summer camp from 9AM to 5PM. Students from elsewhere can also partake in a lodging option where they remain on campus overnight with chaperones and evening activities.
Amanda Krueger, program director and all around awesome person, met with me to discuss in detail just what really happens during the game design camp. Each week brings with it a new group of students, who may or may not have any experience with games. Amanda says “some have experience with games, like hacking Wii’s, creating mods, or some have no experience at all and just really like playing games.” This interesting dynamic makes putting together a game in one week a unique encounter every time.
“It’s a bit like doing a game jam,” Amanda continued, explaining that in the past, they have used programs like Gamestar Mechanic, Little Big Planet, and Unity to teach students game design. This year, they’re trotting out a whole new curriculum that students will learn entirely in Minecraft. But there’s more to this summer camp than just staring at computers all day long.
During classes, which are held in a traditional structure style, with a lecture and lab portion–much like a college course–students analyze different games, discussing what makes bad games bad and good games good. They also participate in Smash Bros Tournaments and even physically recreate games outside, like Angry Birds, in order to understand the physics of a game. Amanda believes that it’s important to teach students that “sometimes you need to think in non-traditional ways, including paper prototyping, playing through a lot of board games, and being non-digital” to design a game.
Despite the fact that this summer camp focuses on producing one game and a preview of that game by the end of the week, the curriculum is interspersed with play, since “often when you’re a college student/game developer, you realize how tedious and time consuming it can get, and sometimes you forget why it’s fun to play games.” Besides the physical product, the program also aims to help students communicate what their games are about, build their portfolio, learn about different roles, and learn about the industry as well, through guest speakers who volunteer their time, either employees at indie or top gaming companies.
Even after all is said and done, the students will have access to a video library where they can refresh their skills at any time. Most importantly, however, is that students will be connected to other peers with similar interests and will have had a taste of college life, something which can soothe the transition to higher education and help cement interest in their futures.
If you’re interested in enrolling a student for summer 2014, registration is open! And more information can be found here.