Kennesaw State summer camp taps game apps

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KENNESAW, Ga. (June 10, 2013) — Kristen Dunning got a little bit of revenge against her allergies this week when she created a game, “Allergy Wars,” in which the hero blasts strawberries, bees, apples and a giant carton of milk with an EpiPen, making them disappear.

“You are making something that belongs to you,” said Kristen, 13, who was among the 22 middle school students in the inaugural app development summer camp at Kennesaw State University’s Mobile Applications Development (MAD) Center. The MAD Center, part of the Michael J. Coles College of Business, is dedicated to creating an apprenticeship environment that will attract and grow student talent. The center serves as an incubation lab for faculty and staff research and practice in information systems innovation.

During the five-day summer camp, the students used the free version of GameSalad, a game development platform that does not require them to write programming code. The students use the drag-and-drop technique to put together elements of the game.

But they have to use logic each step of the way. “These kids do not write a single line of code,” Humayun Zafar, director of the MAD Lab at the Center and an assistant professor of information security and assurance at Coles.

“It’s an if-then structure: ‘What happens if something happens?’ There’s a lot of math and a lot of physics. There’s a lot more than just drag and drop,” Zafar said.

The students have to decide things like the dimensions of the game, the size of images, the actors in it, the directions they are moving and what happens when the actors move. The game platform plugs in the code as the students make decisions.

“I’m getting to be creative,” said Kristen, a rising eighth grader at Sammy McClure Middle Schoolin Dallas, Ga. “I’ve learned a lot. When I came here, I didn’t know how to do any of this.”

All around Kristen, her fellow classmates huddled in pairs or worked on games alone, picking out images and testing moves for their own games. Most were creating variations of an outer space shoot-em-up.

“I’m actually making games and playing,” said Evan Horowitz, 11.

Glen Lewis, 12, was so excited about what he was going to learn that he downloaded GameSalad to his home computer before the camp even started. “So that I could go home and practice with the things I have learned in this camp. It turned out quite well,” Glen said.

In addition to the gaming, toward the end of the four-hour camp the students worked on math problems.

“The idea was to connect math with gaming,” said Pamila Dembla, an associate professor of information systems and the lead instructor of the camp. “Technology is important for this generation. But they cannot do anything without the STEM disciplines. Math and science are so important, so we decided to connect the two.”

After learning the fundamentals, the students created their own games and moved them onto iPads. Their instructors chose “Temple of Tundra” as the winner of the camp competition. It was created by the team of Joseph Evan Sheehan, 11, at student at Pine Mountain Middle School, and  Alex Robinson, 11, a student at St. Catherine of Siena. Joseph and Alex each received a $50 Visa gift card from the MAD Center.