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Reflections on a GAMBIT Summer

As a new semester gets going full-swing for MIT students and faculty, with classes and projects threatening to subsume all memory of summer, it seemed an ideal time to reflect on the accomplishments of a group of students that eschewed summer frivolity for nine weeks of hard work. The GAMBIT Summer Program brought brilliant students from Singapore's tertiary education institutions together with MIT students to form six crackerjack video game development teams (and one sound design odd couple). Over nine weeks, we brainstormed, designed, illustrated, coded, argued, redesigned, recoded, and came out the other end with the 6 games we've featured on the site before.

For a taste of what the summer experience was like, check out the video at the following link:

I assembled the video from copious footage from open houses, interviews, and presentations we shot to document the process. I was also the design lead for the team (code-named "Maita" after the inventor of the Tamagotchi) that developed the game Backflow. Before we began, I was warned that my role as the designer, one who is often the de facto leader of a game development team, might turn out to be something akin to a camp counselor. Thankfully, the "kids" that arrived quickly became respected peers, impressing me instantly with their talent, ability, and drive. I think you can tell from the footage of our presentations how seriously everyone took this opportunity to make video games. (Are video games the new Great American Novel?)

What is perhaps less obvious from the video is all of the opportunities we had for fun. To varying degrees, the students took advantage of activities including improv workshops, bike tours, game nights, movie nights, trips to New York City, museum outings, and, of course, a day at Six Flags New England. These served to help us blow off steam and relax, sure. But the great thing about being in game development is that every new fun experience is a chance to learn something relevant to your job. To design playful experiences, you have to play.

In my team, and I'm sure many others, each day was an opportunity for a cultural exchange that went well beyond discussions of games. We talked movies (I gave a condensed history of Teen Movies, one of the subjects of my grad student thesis, and also gave my usual shout-out to Kubrick), religion (it's an interesting exercise to articulate the history and meaning of the Judeo-Christian tradition, something so taken-for-granted in the States), politics, and education. I shared my recipe for chocolate chip cookies (and the cookies themselves). When I visited Singapore a few weeks later, the tables were turned and I got to learn all about Singaporean films, its many languages and cultures, and, of course, Singaporean cuisine.

There was finally some similarity to the summer camp experience when it came time for this experiment to end. I myself, and I know many others, forged lasting friendships. And at the risk of sounding like a cliche, it was a time I will not soon forget.

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