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Three youngsters from Hillsboro attend first event, held in Portland

An initiative to encourage youth to discover their skills in art animation, computer programing and design has been a rousing success this summer in Portland, but its creator says he’s looking to expand to Washington County in the future.

Game Education PDX, an initiative led by Pixel Arts Game Education, let 39 students — the three from Hillsboro included Gavin and Hunter Proctor and Rebecca Dan — mix and match their interests in game development expertise through 14 hands-on learning modules at a camp July 27 and 28.

“We make an environment supporting exploration,” said Will Lewis, Pixel Arts Game Education co-director and co-founder. “Our goal is to get everyone exploring.”

One girl who attended the camp was, at first, overwhelmed by the idea of making an animation scene, said Lewis. The art and animation track of the camp taught her the basics step-by-step. She made a ball bounce, said Lewis, and by the end of the camp she had an animated person walking.

A friend of Lewis’s built a game that was intentionally too hard for the students to beat. A character would encounter a troll and it would “kill” their character with one swipe, said Lewis. The students were able to go into the code of the game and modify the numbers, observing exactly how their changes affected the game by editing it and rerunning the program. They would make rooms to go through that would give their character more “strength” before encountering the troll, said Lewis.

The game camp was the first of its kind, but for Game Education PDX, the goals extend past the weekend.

“At a lot of our public school systems we don’t see much about digital literacy,” Lewis said. He explained digital literacy as being able to use the Internet and the basics of a computer. Lewis said those basic skills combined with the ease to find information on the web allows their students to “teach themselves to teach themselves.”

To lower the barriers to access, the program is looking to locally implement art design tools and software in local libraries. They also want to host support workshops, classes and meetings to continue learning digital literacy.

“We hope to inspire a do-it-yourself attitude,” said Lewis.

The camp was a way for program organizers to find what the needs are and where the interests lay. Students completed surveys about self-motivation and understanding before and after the camp. Lewis said the numbers haven’t been crunched yet, but he thinks the portfolios each student created show the level of skill gained through the camp.

“A nine-year-old told me at the end ‘I’m all about coding!’ It was great to see him so comfortable,” said Lewis.

In the future, the program will guide youths in a 48-hour game creation competition in late September and plans are in the works for a five-day pilot of a similar camp in December at Rockwood Library in Portland.

“At the end, students were able to work independently,” said Lewis. “Based on the skill levels of the kids, we are confident they learned a lot.”

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