Affordable summer day camps help middle schoolers explore the art of video game design

This summer, the Digital Convergence Lab at Northern Illinois University will offer seven weeks of video game design camps for middle school and high school students, including four weeks of affordable day camps for students entering grades 5 through 9.

“We think summer camps should be fun, and kids like video games, so we kind of hide the learning in the fun – like hiding fruits and vegetables in a cake,” says Aline Click, director of eLearning Services and co-director of the Digital Convergence Lab at NIU.

“In our camps, kids get to play video games,” Click continues. “A lot of different video games. One of the most popular right now is Minecraft. But when the kids play video games they are asked to also think critically about them. When we teach sound effects, they are asked to play a game and pay attention to the sound effects in the game and how that helps the game. The same is true for graphics, animation, gameplay… all the elements of the video game experience.”

Each of the one-week camp sessions focuses on a particular game, tool or design software, but they are united by common skills and goals. In each, students will learn the essentials of video game design – from developing a game story and characters to designing the game interface, sound effects, goals and rules.

“Each week of our camps stands completely on its own, so you can sign up for one week or all of them,” Click says. “And all of our camps are open to beginners and more advanced students.”

With many teachers supporting each camp (about a 4 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio), the students will be able to work independently on their games and teachers will step in to answer questions and troubleshoot when needed.

“Many of our campers come back year after year, and that is exciting,” says Click. “We had two sisters, twins, who came back every year until they were basically too old to come back. Each year they would take the same camps, but they would build a new game idea or further develop an idea they started the year before.”

Click says the camp directors try to use software and games that are freely available to kids so they can continue to build their games at home. However, campers are also introduced to some new and exciting tools, such as the Wink2 robots that will be part of the Robotic Programming and Video Game Design Camp from Monday, July 9 to Friday, July 13.

“These are really cute little robots with LED lights on them, and they’re completely programmable,” according to Click. “So for that week, we’ll have the kids develop a video game maze, and then have them do the same for the robots, sort of bridging the dimensions of virtual and real-world games.”

At just $250 per week, the day camps are designed to be affordable for local families.

“My kids are adults now, but when they were in middle school and high school, I had a hard time finding local affordable camps to send them to in the summer,” says Click. “While we do offer residential camps as well, I feel the day camps are important for those who live close and can’t afford to attend the residential camp, or at least not more than one per summer.”

Registration and information about video game coding camps are available online at http://www.dcl.niu.edu/ or by phone at 815-753-0673.

A full, searchable list of summer camps offered throughout Northern Illinois University is available at http://www.niu.edu/summercamps.

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