2015-12-04 / Schools

Students at Moorpark High learn how to create video games

About 35 students enrolled in program
By Caitlin Trude


TAP INTO THE FUTURE—Technology teacher and Career and Technical Education program coordinator Dana Thompson is using state grant money to create a program at Moorpark High School that teaches students the basics of creating and programming video games. 
Courtesy ofMoorpark High School TAP INTO THE FUTURE—Technology teacher and Career and Technical Education program coordinator Dana Thompson is using state grant money to create a program at Moorpark High School that teaches students the basics of creating and programming video games. Courtesy ofMoorpark High School Like many teens, Tyler Maa loves video games. The 16-yearold said they offer a temporary escape from the pressures of the real world.

“It takes me somewhere where you can’t really go to normally,” the soft-spoken Moorpark High School junior said.

Tyler hopes to work one day in the ever-growing video game industry, and with the help of a new program at MHS, the teen is getting a head start in turning his love for virtual reality into a job in the real world.

He is among about 35 students enrolled in the high school’s Games and Simulations Career Pathway. Students in the program are taught the process of creating and programming a video game, said technology teacher and Career and Technical Education program coordinator Dana Thompson.

To start, she said, students learn basic computer programming skills, such as coding and debugging, in the Introductory Game Design class.

After passing the class, they advance to Game Design II to create their own video games. The class includes a “game pitch” business-simulation project, in which students must win the support of a major company to fund their creation.

Thompson spearheaded the gaming pathway last fall when she saw potential for students like Tyler.

“Looking at what students like these days, gaming was the obvious choice,” she said. “The focus is on courses that will give students the skills that they need to enter not only college, but the workplace.”

Although Moorpark High School had already established career pathway programs related to the business, performing arts, visual and media arts and health sciences fields, Thompson said she wanted to give students the chance to learn about the nuts and bolts of creating a video game.

The gaming pathway was made possible thanks to a $13.2-million grant the state awarded the Ventura County Office of Education last year. The grant funded the Ventura County Innovates program, which allows students in school and community college districts across the county to take specialized, career technical education classes in preparation for the workplace.

First offered in September 2014, the introductory game design class attracted 35 students, and this year an advanced-level game design class was added.

Thompson has lofty goals for the program as it evolves.

She wants to incorporate jobshadow and internship opportunities for students, include a senior capstone class, and have students enter gaming competitions with organizations such as Skills USA and Future Business Leaders of America.

But a challenge, she said, is “marketing” the game design program to freshmen and sophomores so there will be enough students in both levels of gaming classes.

“It’s really hard to offer a class with so few students,” Thompson said. “We had a full class last year, but over half of them were seniors. (This year) level one is full, but level two has about 10 students.”

Ideally, she would like to have full classes in both levels. A problem in reaching that goal is convincing students to take the gaming courses, which count towards elective credits instead of the required fine arts credits.

Thompson also said there are not yet official prerequisites for students to enroll in the gaming pathway, something she hopes to change in the near future.

“My vision is that as a freshman, (a student) would come in and take graphic arts so they get the knowledge of design and color theory and using computer programs like Photoshop,” she said. “When they come into (Game Design II), we’re not teaching them those basic computer skills, so we can jump right into what it takes to design a game.”

Using the skills he’s learned since last year, Tyler said, he enjoys designing his own games both in school and at home.

He said his current project is based on “Metal Gear Solid,” a video game he played when he was younger.

“It’s kind of like a sneaking game, where you hide from guards,” he said. “At the moment, there’s no other objective other than me getting it to work.”

Junior Jacob Robinson has been a gamer practically since he could hold a controller at age 4 and like Tyler, he didn’t know what to expect when he first enrolled in the gaming class in the spring 2015 semester.

“I didn’t know it was a ‘guinea pig class,’” the 17-year-old said. “(Mrs. Thompson) called us her ‘guinea pigs,’ and I was starting to catch on to what that sort of meant. I joined that class to see what it was like, and it turned out pretty fun.”

Thompson said seeing how her students have advanced as game designers over the last year has been well worth the time spent establishing the pathway.

“Just to see that love and to see them getting into something that they enjoy as a lifelong career has been really rewarding,” she said.

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