Gamer Heaven Tucked Inside NIU Library

Aug 1, 2014

Middle school students from around northern Illinois are learning how to express themselves through video games. You can find them tucked away in Northern Illinois University's Founders Memorial Library.

This week, these kids are learning about creating virtual worlds. It's one of several programming camps held at NIU's Digital Convergence Lab each summer. They vary from basic to advanced.

One camper described the character in the world he created as "a giant squid with a Death Star monocle."

Clearly, creativity is not in short supply.

These youngster may be helping close an anticipated computer science education gap.

According to U.S. News & World Report,  there will be 1.4 million new computer science job by 2020, with only 400,000 computer science students.

Matt Dutton of Geneva says he doesn't know if he wants to become a programmer, but says it's a fun hobby.

"Sometimes the controls can get kind of frustrating. It's not just one big piece. It's a bunch of smaller pieces combined. It's a process, but in the end it all looks great," Dutton said.

Eric Russell leads many of the video game camps at NIU. He says they teach a good mix of skills.

"We always use little bits of math here and logic there, or art. It's a lot of disciplines pushed together to make games, especially if you are doing it yourself," Russell said.

He says the goal is to encourage students to use their imaginations.

"I try to do something pretty crazy or creative up here. And they are usually pretty expressive, and they try to create their own characters. They see what can be done in the time so they feel like they could do it too," Russell said.

Organizers say some campers return year after year to pick up where they left off. Several more camps are scheduled this month before college students return to campus.