04.16.2015

Helping a 7th Grader Find His Passion at PopCap Games

By Shelby Weitzel, Treehouse Education Specialist

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If you did not have to be at school or at work, what would you do with your time? I often ask my students this question when they feel like they don’t have any goals. As you can probably imagine, an immediate response from many of them is “play video games.” Our kids, just like any others, are addicted to their phones, iPads, and computers. But is this always bad? Not necessarily. If I press a little further, I can usually tell who is using social media and games as an escape from the realities of everyday life, and who is really, truly inspired by them. In the latter case, the next step is to connect them to adults who feel the same passion.

PopCap Games Offices

Last month, Treehouse was able to make a kid’s day when we arranged a behind-the-scenes tour and job shadow at PopCap Games through Treehouse’s Graduation Success program. If you’ve heard of Plants vs. Zombies, then you know why this is a big deal. (PvZ, by the way, is this youth’s favorite game.) This 7th grader and I took the bus downtown on a no-school day. We were first met at the door by a life-size zombie, and took some selfies. Then our student was whisked inside, where he met programmers, artists, producers, and marketers. We chatted in the PopCap studio, where one artist in particular relayed advice that I wish EVERY young person could hear. This is what he said (more or less):

“I’ve loved video games for as long as I can remember. I knew that if I was ever going to make a living, I would have to find a job in video games. So in college I took a programming course and I flunked it. The teacher told me, “Mark, you might have passed this class if you weren’t drawing all the time.” And that’s when it hit: I’m an artist. I drew all the time! I actually wasn’t very good at it, but if you love something, you just keep doing it and that’s how you get better. So if you love video games, start now! Don’t wait for the right class to come along. Just start. And just keep doing it.”

The programmer and producer echoed this advice. Did it sink in? Only time will tell. The young man seemed a little overwhelmed by all the positive attention, bright colors and enormous bag of swag they sent home with him. The good news: two weeks later this young man applied for the new AVID program at his middle school and he was accepted. He wants to be college-ready. And he is already designing his own video game through an after school club.

Would I want to spend my life designing video games? Nope. But this is the beauty of student-centered planning. This 7th grader is already starting to form his own vision of his future. And the fact is, that with all the people addicted to video games, there will always be a market for his talents!

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About the Author

As a Treehouse Education Specialist, Shelby Weitzel meets with middle and high school students in the Shoreline School District to help them stay on track in their classes, set meaningful goals, and transition to fulfill their post-secondary dreams.


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