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A Summer Camp for the Video Game Crowd

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Curran Holden, 10, working on his video game at the Active Learning’s Gamebuilder Video Game Creation Camp at the National Cathedral School.
Julie Alderman/WAMU
Curran Holden, 10, working on his video game at the Active Learning’s Gamebuilder Video Game Creation Camp at the National Cathedral School.

Summer camp: two words that bring up images of swimming lessons, hikes in the wilderness, the ever-lasting odor of sunscreen.

This camp is not like that. Welcome to Active Learning’s Gamebuilder Video Game Creation Camp at the National Cathedral School. In a dimly-lit classroom, desks are arranged in a semi-circle around a counselor. Each desk has a laptop for kids to use to create their own video games. Matthew Morales, the camp director, says the Gamebuilder camp caters to a specific group of children.

“Not everyone is a sports player. Some kids like the video games and the computer aspects. So that’s our main, like, group that we get here,” he says.

The Gamebuilder camp is small, 10 kids at most. Over the course of a week each one of these kids — all of whom happen to be boys — create their own game from scratch. Beginners use a program called Game Maker, which allows them to build a two-dimensional game; think Pong or Pac Man, but cooler.

Alexander Brown, 12, made his video game on Game Maker.

“I programmed the enemies to shoot at me and when you get hit, it takes away lives,” he says as he plays his game.

Brown’s screen is filled with jets, some his and some his opponent’s. They fly all over dodging each other’s bullets. In the end the first one to lose all their lives loses the game.

The advanced group of campers uses a program called Kodu. Curran Holden, 10, shows off the game he just made.

“One robo-fish fights the other robo-fish, but the other robo-fish fights the other robo-fish and attacks the saucer. But I just use the cannon to blow everything up,” Holden says.

Using Kodu, Holden created a three-dimensional wonderland in which you can play as a robo-fish — a hybrid of a fish and a robot, of course — or as a saucer, or even as a cannon on a mission to destroy everything. He says the software is relatively easy to use, although it can get a little confusing when he tries to explain it while clicking furiously on his screen.

“What you do is you basically click on the thing, you click program and you use certain icons to say like, ‘OK, when you click these buttons on the keyboard it will move like this,'” he says as dragging things in and out of screens.

Counselor Joshua Soto says while each camper makes his own game, the campers do work together and help each other.

“Creating a video game is somewhat of an art. I feel like you incorporate a lot of things into your own video game with different ideas so everything is going to be different, no game is the same. They see that one kid would have something that another kid doesn’t and I encourage them to help each other out and to teach each other how they managed to add that into their game,” Soto says.

Luca Brown, nine-years-old, says he has learned a lot from other campers and tried to incorporate that learning into his two-dimensional game.

“I got an idea from his and it was the way that the person moved and what the enemy shot. I thought that was very creative,” he said of his friend’s game.

At the end of the week, the campers are so excited to show off their finished products. They take turns swapping seats and trying to beat each other’s games. Matthew Morales, the camp’s director, says the fun doesn’t have to stop when the camp is over.

“They’re super excited when their game is done. They often want to put it on different flash drives and C.D.s and hand it out in school and to their family members so everyone can play their game, which they are able to do so that’s pretty great for them,” Morales says.

Many of these boys, like Curran Holden, have returned to the Gamebuilder camp year after year Curran says he keeps coming back for one basic reason: “It’s just a really fun camp and I really like it and, I mean, this is a camp that more kids could go to and have fun at.”

And yes, the campers do make it outside every day for recess for a game of soccer or kickball. However, even when they’re outside, they’re still committed to the game they left upstairs.

“Even when we go out for recess and we’re outside playing soccer or playing something in the field, and the kids are like ‘Can we go back upstairs to the video game? We want to finish our video game.’ So, you know the outdoorsy stuff is not for everyone and I think that we’ve kind of picked up on that and we’re trying to give kids another option,” he says.

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