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All work … and playing games

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Internships allow game studies students to put classroom lessons into action

Gaming graphic

UD’s first cohort of games studies and esports majors are putting classroom lessons into practice as interns at companies in a variety of industries, including healthcare, esports and game development.

Ben Barton, a senior at the University of Delaware, needed to create a sound that perfectly mimicked the noise of a gas leak — a hissing or whistling sound that is loud yet short and staccato — as part of an assignment for his role as a music and sound intern at Cardona Pinball Designs.

After some trial and error, the game studies and esports and music double major discovered that the sound of a bus braking — after some tampering using the digital audio editor Audacity — could be used in the game to match the gas leak sound.

The project was perfect for Barton, who’s passionate about both music and game design.

“Being involved in a creative process like this is cool and something new to me in a professional setting,” he said. “It’s not a traditional job or schoolwork but gives me the chance to be creative with what’s needed, rather than having a specific answer.”

Barton is one of 12 students who make up the first cohort of game studies and esports majors, a program UD launched four years ago. Most of those students are now nearing graduation and are spending the semester applying their classroom skills to the real world. They’re working as interns in a variety of industries, including healthcare, esports and game development.​

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Ben Barton

​Ben Barton works in his home office, finding sounds from the database and editing them in​ Audacity.

The variety of fields reflects the program’s focus on studying games in an interdisciplinary way.

“We think about games in culture and games as culture, and our interns are working not only in actual game design but also in the many areas that intersect with game development and analysis,” said Phill Penix-Tadsen, associate professor of Spanish and Latin American studies and chair of the game studies and esports program. “Video games today cross over with everything from the medical field to education to laboratory science.”

The program includes a required semester-long internship. The interdisciplinary training prepares students to understand every aspect of game development and game culture and also allows them to find their own specialized path in a highly diverse industry.

“These types of experiences allow the students to learn from professionals in a hands-on way and to get the kind of feedback that pushes them to produce polished work they can include in a professional portfolio and build on in their careers,” Penix-Tadsen said.

Incorporating music with game design

Barton is a musician (piano, violin and percussion) who changed his major from music education to a double major in game studies and esports and music in the spring of 2022. So when an opportunity arose to work as a music and sound design intern at Cardona Pinball Designs, he jumped at the chance. The company, owned by UD alumnus James Cardona, creates hardware and software kits that upgrade 1980s and ’90s pinball machines to modern standards for graphics, hi-def sound and new rules.

Barton said it’s been an incredible experience. He’s enthusiastic about the projects he’s worked on and is excited to pursue similar ones in the future.

“In the classroom, we have a coding aspect and an art aspect. We’re learning to do 3D modeling, and next semester I’m taking Intro to Creative Sound Design,” said Barton, who’s graduating in December. “I also have that extensive music background, so when Mr. Cardona asked me to find music and sound to fit the pinball game we’re making right now, it was perfect.”

Cardona, who graduated from UD in 2010, at first wasn’t sure how students in the game studies and esports major — which didn’t exist when he was a student — would help him. But it didn’t take long for him to realize working with younger Blue Hens would be a very rewarding experience. Cardona meets with Barton and two other UD student interns every two weeks, and the students present their work and critique one another.​

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Interns having a meeting

​Interns meet to discuss and share programming ideas at the Delaware Pinball Collective near​ Wilmington.

“I explained where the design and development holes were and let the students go. So far, they have been doing character design and development, writing and recording character dialog, and creating sound effects and choosing background music,” Cardona said. “Some of the content they have created will definitely make it into the final product.”

Barton said he is inspired by the meetings with Cardona and the other interns. As a result of those brainstorming sessions, he’s experimented with mashing multiple sounds together and altering their auditory properties to make something new.

“The skills I’ve picked up through this experimentation will help me progress toward my career goal,” he said.

Inspiring, healing games and design

The healthcare field may not be one of the first places one thinks of for video game design. But for senior game studies and esports major Cristhina Reyes, interning at Nemours Children’s Health has been a perfect fit.

One of her responsibilities is to spend time playing games with patients at the children’s hospital, which helps to distract them. When she’s not interacting with patients and their families, she creates 3D designs in Blender, a computer software program, or works on creating and programming game designs.

“So many games-related things happen at the children’s hospital, including game nights and online bingo for kids who can’t leave their rooms, for example,” she said. “They impact the kids’ lives and help them stay positive and have fun.”​

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Young patient at Nemours Children’s Hospital playing game

​Cristhina Reyes plays an online game with a young patient at Nemours Children’s Hospital. These games help the kids learn and have fun outside of the normal hospital​ routine.

Reyes grew up with two older siblings who were into video games, and she got into them, too, during the pandemic. She’s also a member of UD’s Valorant Sphinx team and hopes to work as a game designer and programmer after graduation.

“In class, we’ve created games through different projects. One of the main things I’ve learned is the importance of working on a game design document — the process before actually building a game — which helps get the creativity flowing,” she said. “I would like a job like that. I thought my art background would help, but that hasn’t come into play that much. It’s more about coding and design.”

Reyes’ final coding course relates directly to her internship. She gets feedback from both her instructor and her internship supervisor.

“Learning while doing works for me,” she said. “This is what internships are about … increasing learning while getting hands-on experience — giving me skills I can use in a real, working environment.”​

Article by Brenda Lange 

Photos courtesy of Ben Barton and Cristhina Reyes

Illustration by Jaynell Keely 

May 14, 2024

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