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NIU camp builds more than video games

Published: Friday, July 11, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Diego Wu’s first trip out of Taiwan has landed him in DeKalb, where the 11-year-old is learning how to create his own video games.

During a Northern Illinois University co-ed video game camp this week, Wu has already learned how to make a shooting game and platform game similar to Super Mario Bros. Students in the camp are using a program called GameMaker to develop their own characters and game concepts.

Diego said his goal is to create a baseball game, since he wants to be a baseball player when he gets older.

“I like to play baseball with my friends in Taiwan,” he said. “My favorite part of the United States is baseball games.”

There are 20 students, six of them Taiwanese, in the video game camp headed by Aline Click, director of E-Learning Services and director of the Digital Convergence Lab at NIU’s library. The children range from 9 to 13 years old.

The six Taiwanese students who are participating in the video game camp are part of a 26-student group from the National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School in Taiwan. They are participating in six camps NIU is hosting to give them exposure to U.S. culture. Some NIU officials know instructors at the Taiwan school and gave presentations there to encourage the students’ participation.

The Taiwanese students in the video game camp are interacting with the American students. Since their English skills are limited, communication is mostly restricted to showing each other what games they’ve created and helping each other when needed.

“Some of them are doing things we don’t typically see with the American students,” said Eric Russell, video game camp instructor for the past 4 years. “A couple of them made a two-player game on their first day, sharing a keyboard. That’s the first time I’ve seen two kids sharing a keyboard.”

The students are having a lot of fun, too, said Taiwanese instructor Deiching Huang.

“Some of the kids like designing their own programs and drawing their own characters,” Huang said. “They like it. They say, ‘I designed something today.’ That’s what they talk about when they go back to their dorm.”

The American students in the video game camp are enjoying their time, as well. JP Rader, 13, created a platform game he calls, “When In Insanity” and another he named “Space Invaders.”

The “Space Invaders” game involves shooting aliens before they attack the player. But the “When In Insanity” game is a little more complex.

“You have to jump through the platforms, don’t fall in the spikes and avoid the enemies,” Rader said. “When you get to the end, you get out of insanity and into a normal life, and you win.”

Creating games often requires some creativity. Adam Croslow, 11, is in the middle of creating a game called “Egg Defenders.” The player, a chicken, is supposed to stop the butcher from getting his eggs. The chicken spits out pre-chewed worms to defend against the butchers.

“I thought of chickens and how they feed their babies, so pre-chewed worms was the idea,” Croslow said.

Video games are part of most children’s culture, regardless of where they are from, and can help them identify with one another despite their differences, Click said.

Video game camp officials have switched students’ seats each day to get them to communicate with one another.

“This is the stuff they live and breathe,” Click said. “If we know their games, we gain their respect and understanding.”

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