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Nothing replaces experience.

That’s why Harrisburg University students learn from instructors and industry professionals who have practical, real-world experience within the fields they teach.

Instructors with industry experience teach students specific skills needed to land  jobs and excel in their roles. Not only do they have a finger on the pulse of industry, they serve as guides, pointing out opportunities and pitfalls students need to watch for as they enter the workforce and beyond.

HU Game Developer in Residence, Jason VandenBerghe, possesses more than 25 years of video game development experience he shares with HU Interactive Media students.

VandenBerghe, Vice President of Game Design for Level Ex, Inc., which designs video games for doctors, joined HU as a Game Developer in Residence last semester. Since arriving, he has shared his expertise with students, and serves as living proof that hard work and dedication to craft can take a person where they want to go in their careers.

VandenBerghe has worked for some of the biggest names in video game design and production, including EA Sports, Activision, and Ubisoft. He developed the ‘Engines of Play’ model of player motivation used across the gaming industry. And a documentary was made that follows VandenBerghe’s journey in bringing his vision for the popular fantasy fighting game, “For Honor,” to life. We recently caught up with VandenBerghe to learn more about his background, his career, and his work with students at HU.

Meet Jason VandenBerghe:

Q: Could you share some information about your background?

A: I was born and raised in Seattle, but I’ve actually travelled around the world. I worked in San Francisco, I went to France and worked for Ubisoft in Paris for years. And I spent a good chunk of time in Montreal, and then I came back to Seattle. Then, I came here because the weather in Seattle is terrible. I wanted to get out of Seattle, and my company is remote now, which is fantastic, so I can live anywhere in the world. And I don’t know if you know this, but Harrisburg is great. I love it. I think it’s wonderful. I’ve just been having a great time here. The people are so cool and there is so much diversity and so many people with positive spirit.

Q: Can you tell us about the work you do at HU?

A: I’m doing lectures and I will be a guest speaker for all of the game design related classes. The most useful thing I have for students is outside perspective. I am able to say, ‘look, this is what it’s really like out there.’ I’ve also I’ve connected up with HU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) because there are a couple of groups in the center’s business incubator that are doing game design work.  I’ve become a mentor for those projects. I go wherever I’m needed, which I love.

Q: Since you’ve had so much success in the game design industry, do you view yourself as a model for students with similar career goals?

A:  I think hearing from somebody who has been doing what they want to do for decades is different than hearing it from your mom and dad. I don’t tell them they have to do their homework; I just show up and tell them what it’s like out there. The other thing, I have spent a lot of time in my career training young people coming into the industry. I’ve talked to and worked with and trained up a lot of people who were fresh out of college. So, I’m very aware of what kinds of things people will encounter at that point in their careers. When game developers come into the industry from school, they usually end up making a lot of the same mistakes in their first couple of years.

Q: Why do you enjoy working with students who want to enter game design?

A: I remember being their age and there was no university offering game design and very few mentors. The first 10 years of my career were really rough because I had to kind of figure it out myself. I didn’t know what was needed. I just went from emergency to emergency and then I did finally figure out and learn what game design is and learned how I can contribute. If I had met the right mentor, those 10 years maybe could have been condensed down to two years. I’m able to help people who are going through the same spot, and that’s my instinct. So, I’m here because I love interacting with students. They’re smart people, they’re wonderful people. I just like getting to know smart, creative people. These kids are so cool, especially this new generation. They’re going through important stuff, and I can show them that there is a pothole right there, and there is a pit trap right there, and this is where the tigers are. I just want to show them the map and tell them, ‘don’t hurt yourself, here’s the way to get through.’ I just find that inherently satisfying. I feel like I’m paying it forward, and I also have had some great mentors and people who made a huge difference in my life when I was younger, and I remember the impact it had.

Q: Are there more opportunities for students involved in game design now than there were when you entered the industry?

A: The industry is just growing and has been growing for a long time. There are thousands of jobs out there. I don’t know of a studio that has enough people. My current studio doesn’t have enough people. We never have enough people in the industry, so it is very competitive and we’re always looking for the best of the best, but there’s a lot of need. It used to be a much smaller industry, and it used to be a lot harder to get started. But now I think I think schools like Harrisburg University are doing a good job of training people right. That used to not be true for a long time, but now college grads are coming out of university and are actually pretty well prepared for doing real work.

Q: What advice do you have for students looking to enter the game design industry?

A:  I never worry about whether or not people are going to find jobs. The hardest part about finding a job is actually finding good studios to apply to. There are so many studios out there now and a lot of them don’t advertise, and it’s just immense. There are lots of jobs, and it can still be tough to get started, but there’s certainly alot of work out there. The industry is growing at 15 percent to 20 percent a year, and it’s been doing that for 20 years. We definitely have been recession proof. We do have our own problems. There have been moments there have been dips in the games industry, but they are not directly related to recessions.

I think game design is like a philosophy. It’s like a generalized approach that all developers should be learning, and I think that most developers feel the same way. I forget sometimes when I think of game design. I just think of someone sitting at a computer coding and stuff but there’s all kinds of opportunities. It takes a team to make it happen, so video game development is the most collaborative art form I know of. I think it’s really hard to be on your own independently. Games are far better made in a group. It’s a collaborative art form. I’d say  the number one skill that designers need to have is communication. They need to be good at listening and they need to be good at asking questions. They need to be curious, and they need to be good at figuring out problems. A designer spends more than half of their time just communicating with the team, especially on a bigger team.

Harrisburg University’s Bachelor of Science in Interactive Media program includes the concepts of new media, interactivity, interaction design, human-computer interaction, digital culture, cyberculture, and areas such as interactive narrative, video games, social media, virtual reality, and augmented reality wherein user and machine both take on an active role.  Interactive media is not limited to electronic media, digital media, game design or digital communications. For more information about the program, please visit this link.


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