U of U gaming students hold one of a kind virtual graduation with use of avatars

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) –  As universities around the country cancel graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Utah’s video game development program will be holding their own virtual reality graduation ceremony.

The ceremony will be held Friday, May 1, at 9:30 a.m. The entire ceremony will be in a video game that the students from the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) games program and faculty created on their own.

Students will log into the game, much like a massive multiplayer online game, and control a 3D avatar in a first-person perspective. They’ll march in a procession, listen to speeches and receive their honorary graduation cords, all in a virtual world.

“We needed to have something special for the students because this may be the end of their academic careers, and we wanted them to leave on a high note,” said University of Utah School of Computing professor Robert Kessler, who is also EAE’s co-founder and executive producer of the virtual event. “And we’re games people, so we said, ‘Let’s make a game.’”

Kessler and three students, Light Bates, Doug Hawthorn and Jacob Nielsen, spent two weeks working on the 3D modeling and animation, and game design that the students learned from EAE’s program.

            “So much of what we teach students is about community and being part of teams, being part of the EAE family,” said R. Michael Young, director of EAE. “To have something where we came together to acknowledge our students’ accomplishments was important. It was so natural to put it into a game.”

Related: Utah Esports team’s $1-million win shows gaming is viable career for some

The event will also be streamed live on the University of Utah’s Twitch channel at https://twitch.tv/UniversityOfUtah so family and friends can watch. 

Entertainment Arts and Engineering, under the U’s College of Engineering, launched in 2007 and has become one of the most highly regarded video game development programs in the world. This year, EAE was ranked No. 4 in Top Undergraduate Programs in Game Design by The Princeton Review.

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