Alien spaceships took over the world today — at least on screen. The UFOs were part of a video game created by high school students at the 12-day Game Academy, a summer program at Champlain College in Burlington. Another group of students showed a game featuring dragons; another developed one similar to the Lord of the Rings, but set on the Oregon Trail. A crowd of campers from around the country — and their families — gathered in Alumni Auditorium to see them all.

The academy gave 50 high school students from around the country — including a handful from Vermont — the opportunity to learn game art, design and programming at one of the top schools for studying video-game creation. Camp participants worked in 10 groups each with five members to produce a video game of their own. Now that the camp has concluded, the students can show their video game to friends back home or continue working on it if they desire.

Academic Co-Director Dean Lawson (pictured, above) came up with the Game Academy concept more than three years ago with cofounder Bridget Ryan. The camp itself is now in its second year; the enrollment has more than doubled since last year. Lawson says the idea came out of a frustration with college students in the video game development program who sometimes don’t know why they’re there or what they want to be doing.

“There is so much misinformation about what game development is and what the different disciplines are,” he says. “So we just started thinking about it and said ‘Why don’t we get some high school students in here and start teaching them?'”

Students present videos of their gaming projects

Students present videos of their gaming projects

Game Programming Instructor John Pile described the unique opportunity that the high schoolers’ had to meet other people their age interested in game development. “Students come and they often are the only person at their school with this interest or there are no other faculty members that have this interest.” he says. “Sometimes students come and they’re at the top of their class and have never had the opportunity to be challenged.”

Both Lawson and Pile say their favorite part of the camp is the final presentation from this afternoon. “[I enjoy] seeing it all come together, seeing them feel good about their project and being able to let them present to the family about what they accomplished,” Pile says.

Visit to learn more about the program.