From Playing Video Games to the Gaming Careers & College Pathways: Insights from the Experts

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Recently, iD Tech sat down with three experts in the gaming industry to discuss how kids can transform a passion for video games into future college majors and careers. Let’s just say: they blew us away with their insights. 

No worries if you missed it: you can catch all of their nuggets of wisdom, pro tips, and specialized advice right here!

Ricky Bennett, iD Tech’s VP of Innovations and Partnerships, and Chelsea Harder, Associate Vice President-iD Tech Partnerships (and experienced college admissions advisor), led the discussion. With our panelists, the experts discussed topics ranging from what today’s gaming companies look for in new hires to how to get started in STEM and stand out on a college admissions essay.

First things first, let's meet the three panelists:

Their unique professional experiences made for a one-of-a-kind conversation rooted in how to transform a love of gaming into exciting future opportunities in college and beyond. 

In Ricky’s words, the key questions are:

“How do we take teens and our students that maybe love video games and help propel them into things that are awesome? College, maybe esports teams, in business and game development. How do we continue to keep our kids on the right path?”

Together, they tackled those big questions and more! Watch above or continue below to get all of their insights firsthand or a summary of the most important highlights. 

How to build a strong college application rooted in STEM

Parents may remember being advised to pursue “well-rounded” academics and extracurriculars when applying to college. They may be surprised to learn that times have changed!

As college admissions become more competitive than ever, experienced admissions professionals recommend a different approach.

“Colleges are really looking for students to be an expert in their field and have done a lot of different things related to a specific area or the major they're applying into,” Chelsea said.

Rather than scatter interests across many extracurriculars and academic fields, specialization can help make teens’ applications stand out. And with just ten extracurricular entries on the Common Application, demonstrating progress, leadership, and increased involvement in a particular area tells a compelling, authentic story about an applicant. 

As Mark points out, “[Admissions officers] hate to hear 'I played legos growing up, therefore I'll be a good engineer…' Your essay will sound like 10,000 other of our 120,000 applications, and it just doesn't stand out. So if you love games, talk about the club that you started around games…or how you failed really hard at something but learned from that and grew. Those are interesting stories that we want to hear: we want to hear about overcoming adversity.”

So, whether it’s coding, graphic design, digital art, or something else, encouraging your child to cast a wide net of extracurricular interests in middle school, the better they can refine their interests and grow specific skills during their senior and rising senior high school years

How to get started in the gaming industry: it’s not just for coders! 

Aspen said, “Game developers come from all kinds of backgrounds. The guy that I work for has a master's degree in poetry, and he is a senior game designer.”

Aspen herself combines her passion for writing with her passion for game design every day in her role at Bethesda Studios. This perfectly illustrates the fact that the gaming industry needs skilled individuals with a wide range of knowledge and experience. 

She encourages non tech-savvy parents to think of game design this way, “Every single thing that you see or do in a game is created by somebody. Everything from the piece of paper that you pick up, to the fact that you didn't even pick up that paper, to the way that your screen looks while you're picking it up the camera that follows you around.” This work requires writers and artists in addition to programmers. 

Niles and Mark elaborated on this point. Mark pointed out that the business side of gaming requires knowledge of marketing, finance, and the ability to forge relationships with potential advertisers and community partners. Niles’ experience with Loaded underscores this point: gaming is about building and nurturing a community, not just about fun and well-designed games. 

In short, if your child expresses an interest in gaming, but isn’t so sure about the coding aspect of it, there are plenty of other avenues they can pursue that will add value to future employers. 

Advice for parents and students

To close the session, Ricky opened up the forum for parents and students to ask questions. Here’s what was on their minds: 

What would you recommend for someone who’s interested in the creative side of game design and is just starting out? 

According to Aspen, “Unity or Unreal are both free game editors. They will basically let you download software for free, and then you can start.” If your child is just getting started, encourage them to dabble and explore! They will have time to specialize down the road. 

What advice would you give parents who are concerned about too much gaming?

It’s a common concern, and the experts had plenty of pointers! First, Mark recommends building a structure and routine around game time, the better to ensure homework and chores get done. 

Support and encouragement are also key. As Niles pointed out during the session, parents intuitively know to watch their kids’ soccer games and ask them about their classes in school. The same goes for gaming! 

The panelists encourage parents to self-educate about their kids’ favorite games and ask critical thinking questions about what they’re playing. This will set kids up to think and create using technology. As we often say at iD Tech, this is the key to going from consumption to creation. 

Mark sees this all the time in advising students in the UCI esports program: communication, learning from critical feedback, and using teamwork are all key to success.

Perhaps most importantly, by engaging with teens about their favorite tech, parents will be better able to watch out for their safety.

“There's a lot of stuff that can happen that you don't see or won't know about unless you're asking and kind of checking in and have that relationship,” Aspen said. 

What are gaming industry professionals looking for in new hires?

As Niles shared, “There are a lot of companies like mine that are looking for people, more than anything, who can show up consistently with critical thinking skills and the ability to manage both fast paced environments. And great communication is the single biggest skill.”

He also advised that those looking to get into the gaming industry “find their superpower.” As touched upon earlier in the session, the gaming industry needs artists, writers, and coders along with marketing, leadership, business, and community-building skills. The sooner kids can start specializing in their “super power” and growing the other soft skills employers are looking for, the more opportunities will be open to them. 

How can gaming and coding benefit neurodiverse students? 

All three panelists spoke to the inclusiveness of the gaming community and industry. They said that while there is always room to grow, their experience has been that neurodiverse individuals can find a lot of success, camaraderie, and support within their professional communities. 

Last words of wisdom for parents 

As the session concluded, the panelists had a few parting words of wisdom for parents. 

Mark recommended that, as kids embark on their STEM journeys, they keep an academic focus. ”There's no substitute for good grades, so I would really encourage your students to focus on school. Make sure you understand when tests are when homework is due, and encourage them to prioritize school work.”

Aspen also raised the importance of continued encouragement, especially for girls who are interested in STEM. “So many girls who would be so interested in STEM and so much love to do it, but our society really pressures them out of pursuing those roles. If you have a kid of any gender, whoever your kid is, if they have this as a passion, don't let them give it up, because the industry needs as many diverse voices as we can get.”

Launch your child’s future 

Whether your child is just starting to explore STEM or they’re ready to apply to game design college programs, iD Tech is here for them every step of the way. 

Browse cutting-edge courses and read more about how to leverage your child’s STEM experiences on their college applications!

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains. 

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