Middle and High School Students Design Video Games

Posted by Conor Murphy on October 1, 2012 in Game Development -- Share:

Some people are just born to be gamers, and others are born to be game developers. One intrepid student from Mount Vernon, Illinois recently showed that, with enough determination, dreams of programming great video games can come true. Michael Hicks had an early interest in computers and video games, but he decided to take things a step further and develop them, The Southern reported. Like many seventh graders, he was an avid gamer. Unlike many seventh graders, he created his first video game in middle school. It was simple – a two-dimensional space shooter game – but the young student’s burgeoning interest didn’t stop there.

Game Designer Michael Hicks

Once in high school, Hicks began studying 3D programming in his spare time, and that led to an updated version of his original game, which he called Honor in Vengeance. He finished the second version at age 17, according to The Southern. At 19, Hicks has created another game called Sententia. His second official game is a little bit different from the young developer’s humble beginnings. In Sententia, players must strategically build bridges with limited resources in order to progress.

Despite receiving some mixed reviews, Hicks told The Southern that he’s happy with the way things have turned out with his game. He plans on expanding his skills by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, which he will have in 10 months.

Video games have become an increasingly important part of our culture. Part of the reason is that it’s a highly diverse medium of entertainment. Casual games offer a relaxed pace for those who simply want to take it easy for a while. Other games ramp up the difficulty for gamers who want a challenge. Then there are online games for social activity and multiplayer ones to teach cooperation and communication skills.

As some research suggests, the average gamer spends 9.2 hours per week playing video games. And that’s not a bad thing! But imagine spending that much time learning a new skill or studying – you’d make some pretty impressive progress in just a few weeks. Schools are beginning to realize the potential value of the technology and are turning many students into video game developers in the process.

Honor in Vengeance II - game designed by Michael Hicks

Schools turning students into game designers
Just like playing a video game, designing one requires a diverse set of skills that are fairly useful in a lot of areas. That’s why students at Tygarts Valley Middle and High School are learning from the Globaloria curriculum – a program for students to learn the concepts of social networking and game design. According to a recent Education Week article, learning to design video games may help students be more competitive in the job market, and not just in the game design field!

“For the students in this computer-lab-turned-mini-software-company, who spend the entire course working individually or with partners developing a game that teaches an educational concept of their choosing, there’s the critical thinking needed to understand and communicate to players what exactly is toughest to teach about a subject,” the article stated. “There are also the transferable skills of proposal writing, storyboarding, AdobeScript software coding, informational blogging, and presentation of progress reports, as students follow a development plan similar to those in the commercial gaming industry through tools available through their account on Globaloria’s wiki site.”

Teaching game design in conjunction with more traditional classroom subjects does have its challenges. The movement is relatively new in education, and has struggled in gaining support from instructors that would be qualified to teach. Another issue: How do you fit in game design without taking away from other important areas? According to Education Week, some supporters have suggested schools offer programs like Globaloria as a voluntary, after school options. Another potential way of bringing video games into the classroom would be to introduce specific aspects of game design education into schools in one-week segments. That way, students get a break from listening to their teachers and they learn valuable skills in the process!

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+