Storytelling meets programming to create student-made video game


Students in the creative writing and computer science departments are teaming up to create brand new video games as part of their coursework.

“I was interested in taking the fiction class and branching it out beyond just literary fiction,” said John Estes, assistant professor of English and director of creative writing. “I was trying to think of ways to demonstrate to students other ways to practice storytelling, that there’s no real training in typical creative writing programs.”

Estes said he considered having students create a TV drama, but the computer science department was able to give life to the work of students in a video game setting instead.

Students in the creative writing and computer science departments are teaming up to create brand new video games as part of their coursework. (Photo by Charley Garwood)

Students in the fiction writing class wrote the script, and computer programming students are coding the scripts into a working video game.

The project is giving students experience that will prepare them for life after graduation.

“I get asked a lot about what somebody can do with a creative writing major,” Estes said. “We’re surrounded by so much creative text. There are people that get paid to write video game stories.”

Estes said the skills gained through the experience go far beyond a single job opportunity. Collaboration is a large aspect of the assignment and future careers.

“There’s so much that happens in any work environment that’s collaborative,” Estes said. “It’s an experience where students could go into an interview and say ‘I know how to produce on a deadline with a skill.’ To have faith in your own ability to figure is out is really valuable.”

Caylie Mindling, junior creative writing major, agreed that the assignment pushed her.

“It was frustrating at first,” Mindling said. “It turned out fun once you let loose.”

Mindling was a member of a three-person writing team from the fiction writing class.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Mindling said. “I’ve never played a video game before.”

Mindling said her lack of video game knowledge freed her group to brainstorm because they had no preconceived ideas on what the story should look like.

“We started going crazy because we had no limits,” Mindling said. “We tried to create a convincing storyline with some kind of gameplay in there as well.”

The experience pushed Mindling to think beyond the classroom.

“It opened up another job opportunity idea,” Mindling said.

Fiction writing students developed dialogue and character development for the computer programming students to build around.

“I’m interested to see what the computer science class is going to do with it,” Mindling said.

Adam Klemann, support and infrastructure manager, is the instructor for the computer programming course.

Klemann said the class teaches students about coding.

“What better way to learn how to code than to have a video game at the end?” Klemann said.

Students in the class are learning to program the behavior of the objects and the main character.

Klemann said the collaboration is helping his students gain real-world experience.

“It’s extremely realistic because programmers are primarily problem solvers,” Klemann said. “They’re getting exposed to a different developing environment.”

The assignment goes beyond practicality, however.

“Students have been very excited about [the project],” Klemann said. “It’s another opportunity to stretch their programming muscles.”

Due to the success of this collaboration, other departments have contacted Klemann about future possibilities of teamwork between disciplines.

Klemann said the visual arts and business departments may be able to take the project to the next level, but no additions will be made this semester.

“We wanted to start small and then maybe expand later,” Klemann said.

Alicia Meyer is a staff writer for The Aviso AVW.


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