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SXSW Interview with GameCamp! owner Spencer Zuzolo

For past six years Spencer Zuzolo has dedicated himself to educating children and adults on how to create games and utilize next generation media as technology progresses. He is currently an exhibitor at the SXSW Screen Burn Arcade where parents, children, and potential students of all ages may meet Spencer and some of his staff between now and Sunday.

The Screen Burn Arcade, open from 12-6 both Saturday and Sunday, is located at the Austin Convention Center at 500 E. Cesar Chavez. 

CT: Tell me about Game Camp! and 3DSquared.

SZ: GameCamp! is a summer program for high school and middle school students interested in careers in the video game and digital media industries. GameCamp! is a casual and fun way for students to learn 21st Century digital media skills through designing video games. GameCamp! takes the people, tools and processes from the game industry and connects them to young people interested in games and digital media careers. Our webpage is gamecamp.org.

3D Squared is a non-profit organization dedicated to delivering next-generation collaborative learning experiences. Our students work in teams, using industry standard tools and practices, to develop solutions to local, national and world problems. These collaborative, problem based learning experiences are powerful tools for developing exceptional youth leadership skills and cane be found at 3dsquared.ning.com.

CT: Let's do a quick run through of who you are and how you got to be at the head of these entities, why are you qualified?

SZ: I presently serve as President of 3D Squared, Inc., a 501(c)3 education and workforce development firm providing advanced collaborative learning experiences utilizing industry standard tools and practices. I've served in that capacity since the founding of the organization in 2006. From 2004 to the present, I have acted as founder and owner, of GameCamp!, LLC, an academic and career preparatory summer and after school program for young people interested in careers in the video game and digital media industries.

Before that I served as Coordinator of the award-winning Video Game Development Industry Certificate program at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. I helped design and develop ACC’s award-winning program continuing education program. In January 2008, I was hired as Director for ACC’s new Game Development Institute where I helped create and develop the three degree programs in video game design, art and programming. I've also designed and established the GDI's Game Development Laboratory for interfacing students and faculty with game industry veterans.

From 2000 to 2005, I was the Managing Partner of Ninjaneering, LLC, an Austin based video game development and consulting company providing contract game development services to online game companies.

CT: Do you use volunteers or is your staff paid?

SZ: Both. The goal is to give students a pathway from middle school into a career in fields that emphasize science, technology, engineering, math, communication, and the arts. We call it the Achievement model. Students in the Digital Leadership Program move along a ladder of expertise, that much like a video game, opens up new knowledge and opportunities as they advance. When students begin the curriculum they have limited knowledge and experience with the requirements for working in the games and digital media industries. They also have no idea that the tools and creative processes used in those industries are revolutionizing industries from communications to manufacturing.

Initially the students experience a survey level course in the games and digital media development process. They are exposed to the history, technology, and the design, creation, and production processes. They experience the tools that designers, artists, programmers, producers and audio professionals use to create digital media content from games to film to the web. As students advance the curriculum adjusts as the level of competence increases and the students become the planners of their own education and career track.

Currently, we have students that are in their 5th year of our program and taking on more responsibility as mentors and paid counselors More importantly, they are pursuing career tracks that include the creative arts, computer programming, architecture, literature, acting, and business just to name a few. They may not work in the game industry but the experience in our system results in motivated and creative critical thinking young adults. Just what our world needs.

CT: I know that the curriculum from both non and for-profit overlaps, where do these two differ?

SZ: GameCamp! is an academic program for students. It falls more in the entertainment category. Our camps are fun and they teach valuable skills, but they are introductory and designed to allow young people to experience creative digital media tools and processes. Game play a large role in this because learning should be fun.

3DSquared focuses more on workforce training and how you create digital leaders that can help usher our economy and society into the 21st century global economy. In our system, the people we are training could be 12 or 60. They can be former GameCamp! students, local teachers, interested parents or local decision makers from government and industry. The program's emphasis is on utilizing game and digital media technology to transfer educational content to students that they learn through applying it to solving pressing social issues. Students in the workforce training programs pay more attention to applying new technology education standards

CT: What can parents expect kids to learn at GameCamp!?

SZ: Social and Civics Skills
Teamwork and Collaboration
Research, Critical Thinking, Organization
Digital Media Tools and Processes
Game Development Skills
Education and Career Planning
Industry Networking

CT: Has interest in your programs risen since the creation of the iPhone and other easy access mobile devices?

SZ: Possibly. We don't ask that question internally. In our minds, these new tools for mobile and casual game development allow students to be more successful, faster. Prototyping and iteration comes quicker and development arcs are shorter. I think it will make real world projects trickle down the education ladder into middle and elementary schools exposing students earlier to industry expertise and mentorship.

CT: I heard you say that those involved in your programs come away with "work experience", does that mean they will create games, levels, or art that is of resume quality?

SZ: Yes. Students in the program are simulating the development process. They start the week creating a fictitious game company that is tasked to produce and a game that educates people about a critical social problem and potential solutions. They define their game's design features, technical and art pipelines, marketing strategies as well as prototyping the game using industry standard and then pitch their game to industry professionals for feedback. It is a tight simulation of the development process.

More information on GameCamp! can be found at their webpage here while information on Spencer's non-proft 3DSquared may be found here.

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