Later this month, Ben Johnson will travel to the East Coast Game Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, to showcase a unique video game he has been helping to create.
The NC State University computer science junior has been writing code for “Lifeworld,” a virtual reality escape-room game, in which the player is given the unique opportunity to understand what it is like to live with schizophrenia and psychosis. “There are ghosts or phantoms in the player’s periphery, not as a way to scare but to educate,” Johnson said in a recent phone interview. “Maybe they will see a cup that moves. There is also size perception, and the floor falls away. ... This is a puzzle that educates.”
Johnson, a Beta Delta Chapter Member, got involved in video game development as part of the Video Game Development Club (VDGC) at NC State, where students and alumni get together to work on creating new video games. “There’s an art team, programming team and design team,” he said. Development of the projects is progressive. Johnson, a programmer, is writing code for the game, which had been started by other students the year before. His personal goal is to flesh it out and complete it, so the effects move flawlessly, making the symptoms of the player seem realistic.
Although “Lifeworld” is the only game Johnson has worked on through VGDC, his experience also comes from several personal projects he designed and coded in the past. “I explore the tools and learn to use them,” he said of his progress over the years.
“I want to give back to this community with a game I’ve created."
Johnson will demo “Lifeworld” at the East Coast Game Conference April 16 through 18 and, though the development is a team effort, he will be able to point out the parts he specifically created. Not only will the presentation promote the game, it also will help him make career connections for when he graduates in May 2020. The area were he lives in North Carolina, Johnson said, has some notoriety in the video game world – Epic Games, Insomniac Games, Red Storm Entertainment.
Ultimately, he would love to work with the mechanics in game development, “programming characters interacting with their surroundings,” and the perfect place for that, he said, would actually be with RARE Ltd in the U.K. The company was established in 1985 and partnered with Nintendo on titles such as “Battletoads,” “Donkey Kong Country” and “GoldenEye.”
Johnson said he started playing video games on a Nintendo 64 at the age of 5. His first game, which he played with his dad, was “Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.” So, with almost two decades of experience, he said, it’s time to give back. He’s been doing a lot of research into gaming company internships that focus on customers and player feedback. “I’ve been part of the online gaming community for a long time,” he said. “I want to give back to this community with a game I’ve created."
Giving back is the Phi Sigma Pi way, and Johnson’s connection with his Chapter has been an important part of his personal development, he said. “It’s important to me to have the support of my Phi Sigma Pi Brothers in the Beta Delta Chapter. They see me capable of reaching my goals.”
In turn, Johnson said, he appreciates Members’ academic endeavors, always asking the question, ‘what can I do to improve my academics.’ Currently, he is running for two leadership positions.