Summer camp for kid techies

It's all fun and games, with a twist. At iD Tech Camps, kids aren't just playing video games, but learning how to design them. CNET's Kara Tsuboi reports.

When I was a kid, I went to my fair share of educational summer programs: language camp, clay animation camp, invention camp (and I loved them all). But those are so 20th century. These days, the hot, educational activity during the summer months is tech camp, the obvious choice for kids who are obsessed with playing on their computers, conquering video games, and mastering the thousands of apps for their iPods, tablets, or smartphones.

Now in its 13th season, iD Tech Camps is a ubiquitous program that offers summer courses in a wide range of techie topics at 60 universities in 25 states. We first visited Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in July 2008 to check out the robotics sessions and general game design, but this year, we wanted to observe the new session "Game Design for iPhone and iPad." Here, kids as young as 10 can get their hands on software to create, design, and build their very own games. The camp costs $799 a week for a day student and $1,298 a week for an overnight student.

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When we arrived at the Theta Delta Chi fraternity house on Stanford's campus, we found a hive of kid activity. The two dozen or so students in the game design session were all deeply focused on their individual computer monitors, occasionally sharing ideas with each other or seeking advice from a counselor. This session is only a week long but it was impressive to see how much work these campers had accomplished in just two and a half days.

I sat down with four kids to learn about their projects. From secret caves to a magic cafe to a world of flying microphones to tanks shooting monsters, there was an incredible amount of imagination and creativity on display. Using Game Salad software, the students start with different templates for their games and then add special rules, or directions, to customize them. Cafe Adventure, the brainchild of 11-year-old Claire Lin, starts with a little girl who bounces from her trampoline to various platforms to reach a special door and the next level. Claire had taken the time to hand draw the entire game in Photoshop first, adding a neat layer of personalization and juvenile charm.

At the end of each session, students take home a copy of their games on a thumb drive or they can immediately upload them to their iPhones, iPods, and iPads. One camper, 11-year-old Kennedi Kirk, said she may even try to sell hers on iTunes for 59 or 99 cents, just to see what happens. None of the students we talked to was certain that game design would turn into a career since for now it's still just fun and games. For more information on the iD Tech Camps, visit www.internaldrive.com.

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