Some say video games and education don’t mix, but Pitman High School students Marcus Smith, Omar Vallejo and Abram Galvez proved skeptics wrong by earning statewide recognition recently at the Future Business Leaders of America State Leadership Conference. The trio created a video game that wowed judges at the conference in April, securing them a second-place title and one-way ticket to compete at the national level in Anaheim this June.
Competing against each other in events like Public Speaking, Job Interview and Digital Video Production, to name a few, students at the conference went head-to-head in either “test” or “performance” type categories. The test format was comparative to an SAT-like setting, said Pitman FBLA assistant advisor James Toste, while the performance events took place in front of the judges in real time. Inspired by their computer game development class on campus, Smith, Vallejo and Galvez chose to compete in the Computer Game and Simulation Programming contest — a performance event where students create a video game which the judges get to try out themselves.
“Marcus and Abram are in the video game class together, and Abram and Omar are friends. They take AP classes together,” said Toste. “This was just something that they’re all interested in.”
The three students used their knack for programming to create a nine-level video game, complete with a hero who takes down a bad guy — similar to the retro “Super Mario Bros.” game, said Toste.
“It’s more of an old-school video game, not like the hi-tech ones out today,” he added. “It’s definitely impressive. Their work is pretty darn good.”
The next step for the tech-savvy team is the FBLA National Leadership Conference, where they will compete against the best Computer Game and Simulation Programming competitors from each state.
In 2015, Pitman students Bryse Rochester, Dustin Halsey and Colin Van Winkle brought home fifth place in the same video game-centered event, marking just the second time Pitman placed in the top 10 at the national level. This year, Smith, Vallejo and Galvez are hoping to recreate their predecessors’ success and receive national recognition for their school once more.
The country-wide contest is the best of the best, and the students have used advice from the state conference judges to make their product even better than before
“They went and fixed their game based on that feedback, and now their task is to present it to a different group expert panel,” said Toste. “They’re really trying to sell their game to the judges.”
In his first year with the FBLA program, Toste feels “honored” to accompany the team to Anaheim, but also gave much of the credit to Pitman FBLA advisor Shawne Arnold, who teaches Business at the high school.
From June 29 to July 1, Smith, Vallejo and Galvez will compete at the national level in Anaheim. The trip is expected to cost around $750, and the Pitman FBLA program is accepting donations or sponsorships to help the boys travel. Those who wish to help can contact Toste at 209-614-9793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.