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Tech Camp targets fun and futures


Wearing a blue t-shirt and bright yellow Spongebob Square Pants pajama bottoms, Adam Hammerle, 12, is spending his Wednesday morning of summer vacation like many boys his age, in front of a computer screen playing video games. 

The one he is pounding his thumbs and fingers away at is a mid-evil era fighting game, fully equipped with swords, bow and arrows, and some kind of electric, flashy force field. 

But Adam isn’t like most preteens.  You see, the game that has consumed his full attention this morning is one he created.

“The concept of the game is that the town that's on fire, the Orks attacked it and the whole point of the game is to defeat the Ork king and save the day,” said Hammerle.

Adam is one of 28 kids participating in the annual Tech Camp at Purdue.  Now in its seventh year, the event aims to teach children between the ages of seven and 17 the skills needed for a career in video game programming.

“The are seeing the background.  They are seeing how you create a game and every little aspect that you don't even think of when you are moving on that stick on the key board." said camp Director Krista Shelley.  "They are learning that all here." 

Throughout the week she and the other counselors help the future programmers complete a final project, which is a playable video game.  She says going through that process provides more lessons than just the ins-and-outs of programming.

"That is the most amazing thing about Tech Camp," she said.  "We do it as a group so (the campers) they get to learn how to interact with other people doing something they love.  They already know how to game an we are teaching them the social part."

And Adam says working with his peers pushes him to be a better programmer.

"I think it gives you a little demo of what it's like being a game programmer and making games and working in an environment with other programmers," he said.  "It's a great experience because you get to have other peoples ideas and get to work together on it.”

Across the room, Alphonso Hopkins clicks away on his computer mouse putting some finishing touches on a game he’s created called Assassins.  He says it’s a working title. 

The ten-year-old from South Bend came up with the idea by combining aspects of some of his favorite video games. 

The ones Alphonso plays are often too easy for him.  He says he beats most of them in a day or two.

So he wanted to try something more challenging, he turned to programming. 

"When I was little, really little, I played games a lot," he said.  "My mom said I should go to a gaming camp so I can make my own really hard game and play it."

Did I mention he’s 10?  Paul Zakaria is blown away too.

"I'm pretty impressed," said Zakaria who is the lead instructor at the camp.

"As with a lot of the campers, they come here knowing nothing about the program.  And within just a few days they pick up on a lot of the concepts we teach and then come up with their own ideas.  They create a world based on their own imaginations and put it together."

Zakaria says while the Tech Camp is intended to be fun, the information learned has real benefits. 

He says after the week, if the kids continue to build on their new skill set, they will open a lot of doors not only for their academic future, but future careers as well.

"What you are learning about conditions, and actions, and how one thing effects another and all the properties with linking different objects together, you'll remember that," he said.

"When you go into programming courses, or coding courses later on, you're going to have that knowledge with you and probably put you ahead of the curve."

And Alphonso Hopkins is trying to do just that. 

He hopes to join the Air Force when he’s old enough and even though his current project is based mostly on action and fighting sequences, he wants to use his experience at Purdue’s Tech Camp to one day create a video game that may have a greater impact.

"My dad was in the Navy and he told me they use remote controls to fly these airplanes sometimes.  So, he said if I can make a game for them,  they can practice with the game I make."

Did I mention he’s ten?