GAME Students arrive in Silicon Valley to explore future of tech

When Gábor CSeh walked out of San Jose International Airport Tuesday afternoon, it marked the latest step in a remarkable journey that has taken him from being a child struggling to integrate in the Canadian school system to a successful Brock University student with a bright future ahead of him.

Like the classmates he collaborated with to form Digital Details, a game design studio launched as part of their coursework in Brock’s hugely popular GAME program, Cseh was invited to San Jose this week to attend the virtual reality (VR) tech conference Oculus Connect 6.

In the world of video games, VR is the future, and the leading brand behind the technology — the Facebook-owned Oculus — has paid for much of the six Brock students’ expenses to attend the conference because the game they designed in third year, known as Magehem, used gestural VR technology in a way that caught the attention of the California company. The students have been invited to participate in Oculus Start, a program designed to support new developers in the VR world.

It’s a big accomplishment for all six students, but especially for the 31-year-old CSeh, who has come a long way since immigrating from Hungary at the age of eight.

“Video games saved my life, literally,” says CSeh, who found integrating into his Canadian school and making friends difficult. Video games gave him something in common to talk about with other kids and helped him fit in.

Games helped him later in life, too. Dealing with a difficult family situation and a stressful call centre job four years ago, CSeh found himself in an extremely dark place. Knowing a new installment of the popular Fallout video game series was coming out gave him hope.

“There was so much hype around the exploration of the game, which is why I like to play games,” he says. “It’s about discovering a world that you can make. That’s a major draw about video games for a lot of people — you get immediate feedback. It’s nice to see that you can change the world, even if it is only a video game world.”

When CSeh realized he needed to change careers, he applied to the new joint Brock University—Niagara College GAME design program. His goal now is to create the kind of games that might help someone like him get through a dark time in their lives.

Through his own experiences, and those of his friends, CSeh sees the potential in video games to create accessible and welcoming communities.

“I remember one guy I played World of Warcraft with,” says CSeh. “He was terminally ill in the hospital. One of the members of the community sent a card around the country for us all to sign and then sent it to him before he died. He was too sick to (compete) with us, but he hung out in the chat and talked with us all the time.”

CSeh doesn’t want to see anyone left out of games and is interested in ways VR can create an inclusive community. He is looking forward to the Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality blending workshop Oculus is offering as part of the conference. His ultimate goal is to someday get the hardware that allows for a 100 per cent immersive experience.

“VR has the potential to be one of the most inclusive platforms out there, especially when combined with other technologies that people are working on, like nerve sensing,” he says. “A fully immersive VR where you don’t need a controller isn’t that far away and it’s going to be huge.”

In addition to having their conference fees and hotel paid for by Oculus, the Brock students are attending networking events and will have access to Oculus VR professionals for consultation over the coming year and one year of Unity pro, the game engine commonly used to create VR games.

Joining CSeh at the event are classmates Adam Henderson, Robbie Jolley, Kyle Jones, Merhan Mansour Faizi and Mervin Hocson. Others on the Design Detail team but not in San Jose include Caldon Bowden, Nick Anger and Dylan Doyle.

For Mansour Feizi, games are about creativity and learning.

“Games are a good way to encourage one’s self to learn something,” he says, “It’s also a way to trigger your creativity to make something of your own. I really hope one day any game I make will inspire someone else to make their own game.”

Jolley says sometimes people have misconceptions about what Brock’s GAME program is all about.

“People from outside the program sometimes think it’s just us playing video games all day,” he says. “But it’s a blend between theory and practice about all the different aspects that go into making a game. I’m looking forward to understanding the ways technology is advancing and thinking about how my future can involve what I learn at Oculus Connect.”

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