Student sparks enthusiasm for video game development on campus
Starting her freshman year at Central Michigan University, Molly Rossman knew she was interested in video game design.
The Midland senior grew up playing Nintendo 64 games such as Super Smash Bros and Pokémon Stadium with her father. The artist went to college in 2013, striving to break into the industry with her drawings and designs.
There is no video game design program at CMU, so Rossman developed her own path. Her ambition drove her to work with advisers and faculty to personalize her curriculum. In her freshman year, she collaborated with Tony Morelli, a computer science professor, to establish the Game Development and Design Club that teaches other interested students how to make games.
The club started meeting in Spring 2014. It intends to educate students, host events and tournaments.
“The biggest benefit is the community aspect,” said Highland senior Ethan Coggins, vice president of the club. “It’s fun getting together with people that share your passion for video games and want to work in the industry.”
One of the three events the club hosts every semester is dedicated to charitable causes, Rossman said. They join in Rely for Life every spring, and in the fall, they participate in the Extra Life fundraiser, where they raise donations for children’s hospitals in Michigan.
“We stream (ourselves) playing or making games for 24 hours and ask people viewing for donations,” she said. “It’s my favorite process that we go through.”
Now, Rossman works for Morelli, who quickly became her mentor, and researches ways to make video games for accessible for people with disabilities.
“This is my passion. Inclusivity motivates me,” Rossman said. “Gaming is so important in that everybody has an inherent right for a sense of play and fun, and (should be able to) have that leisure time of games.”
After looking through different programs and courses, Rossman found her academic trifecta. She will graduate on May 6 with a major in Two-Dimensional Art and two minors in Interior Design and Multimedia Design.
Rossman aims to use her qualifications to design environments in video games.
“Honestly, I’m interested in designing anything,” Rossman said. “I love character design, (but) that has a really flooded market. I’d prefer the environmental stuff and I’ve gotten so much better at articulating that through the interior design minor.”
CMU offers courses in different programs that have game design aspects, Rossman said. She thinks the university would benefit from establishing a program that connects those dots.
“The virtual world is at the forefront of (our) lives and people don’t even realize it,” she said. “People spend so much time on their phones, and anything you see on your phone involves a programmer, an artist and a writer. It’s important to realize there’s a lot of careers that go with that and taking gaming seriously is important.”
The RSO has generated substantial student support for a design program. That did not go unnoticed by the College of Communications and Fine Arts.
Janet Hethorn, dean of the college, said she is confident there will be a program established in upcoming years, and the Curriculum Committee has already identified classes that will fit.
“There’s a lot of people excited about that,” Hethorn said. “Communication and fine arts is about critical and creatively thinking to bring about change in the world. We have to be aware of what the needs are and figure out how to shift to adjust to make programs that are meaningful.”
Rossman said general meetings are meant to be educational. They show tutorials regarding different design elements and how to use software necessary in the field.
Students interested in joining the club are encouraged to follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CMUGDDC, and attend weekly meetings once the Fall 2017 schedule has been set.
Through the club, Coggins, an Information Technology student, developed coding skills and a strong friendship with Rossman. Together, they have combined their skills to create almost every game in their portfolio.
“(Rossman) is really passionate about games and video game design,” Coggins said. “She’s always super friendly, always very willing to help people who are struggling with their own problems in game design. She’s really creative, and talented in the art field. She’ll (think of) the ideas, and I’ll put them together.”
Coggins described the first video game he made with Rossman, titled “Enter at Your Own Risk,” where the player is stuck in a maze searching for clues on the way out.
“It’s a really creepy atmosphere. There’s this guy (shrouded) in a red cloak that’s following you,” he said. “She drew it and showed it to me, and I thought it sounded cool so we put it together.”
Both Rossman and Coggins work for Morelli, studying the utility of games for people with disabilities while often working with departments across campus. During her favorite project, Rossman collaborated with the Psychology department.
“Graduate psychology students got in contact with (Morelli) about testing this idea of doing something in a virtual environment, and seeing if people with disabilities can still do it in a physical environment,” she said.
Rossman was given photos of a room in the Education and Human Services building that the project was designed from. She was then able to model the virtual room based off the pictures.
Exclusivity in video games is a huge problem in the industry, Rossman said. Because games are widely regarded as being a useful educational method, it’s important for everyone to have access to learning in different ways.
“It’s hard though because I think I cut out a very large portion of gamers, those who are blind, because I’m an artist,” Rossman said. “I really want to look into how I can work with gaming and game-making, when the core of my work is completely unseen or used for someone with the disability.”