By DEXTER DUGGAN
Although one belief about video games equates them with violence and immorality, there’s a positive side to this electronic entertainment, too — production of family-friendly puzzle games and adventure games, said the head of a southern California Catholic school that prepares students for careers in media and business.
Derry Connolly, Ph.D., president of John Paul the Great Catholic University, told The Wanderer that from what he observed, these gaming executives are like “50-year-old teddy bears…just jolly people” who’d be happy to be home playing games with their own children.
Connolly’s school hosted an event in February to network with San Diego-area gaming professionals and show off what its new campus has to offer, hoping to provide interns and new employees for the video-gaming businesses.
After opening its doors in September 2006 at a business park in San Diego’s Scripps Ranch neighborhood, John Paul the Great moved about 20 minutes up the freeway last year, to the mellow suburb of Escondido, a town that arose amid citrus and avocados.
The school grew from about 4,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet within the original two-story Scripps Ranch office building, then transitioned to its new setting of 40,000 square feet in four buildings in downtown Escondido. Its goal always has been to reclaim the culture through media. An orthodox faith life includes regular Masses offered on campus.
Prior to co-founding John Paul the Great, Connolly had extensive experience in technology, including earning a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from Cal Tech in Pasadena, and having served on the University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) executive board of the Center for the Commercialization of Advanced Technology.
As John Paul the Great prepared to move last year, a news release said, “The university offers undergraduate degrees in communications media and business, and graduate degrees in film producing and theology. Its dominant academic emphasis is in entertainment media, including film, TV, animation, and video gaming.”
Sam Shpigelman, director of the video-game program at the university, said in a February news release that the outreach to gaming officials “was hugely successful. The industry knows we are here now. And not only that, but the program here was met with a lot of enthusiasm from everyone who attended. Each one of them agreed to participate on a regular basis on a panel that reviews student portfolios and offers feedback.”
Shpigelman also is chief creative officer of High Tech Playground, a software development firm specializing in mobile applications and games. Before coming to John Paul the Great, he established a similar educational model at the UCSD Extensions Digital Arts Center, the news release said.
Since opening in 2006, John Paul the Great has grown from 30 students to about 170, with plans for continued expansion.
Video-gaming professionals “tend to be more mellow and a lot less politically opinionated” than film-industry figures, Connolly told The Wanderer. “These guys love playing games….That’s my observation.” People in the film industry, he added, “seem more wired.”
Connolly said that when John Paul the Great student Tiffany Hall visited with some gaming professionals, they were impressed that she interacted as if she were on the same level as their employees.
While the gamers visited the campus, Connolly donned headgear covering the eyes to provide a trip into virtual reality. Wherever the person looks, he said, it seems he’s in different surroundings. “You’re like a fish in a fishbowl, an immersive experience” in every direction, he said.
Connolly said Escondido provided a hearty welcome to the relocated campus. “There’s been a huge welcome for us in Escondido. I expected to be welcomed,” he said, but this exceeded his hopes.
Escondido wanted to pump life into its downtown by accommodating the university, and the students provide that from their central-city location, he said. “You put 170 young people hanging around downtown and it totally changes the ambience.”
San Diego’s major daily newspaper, U-T San Diego, reported on March 16: “Just about everywhere you look these days in downtown Escondido, college students are making movies, eating at restaurants, working at part-time jobs, or studying in Maple Street Plaza.”
One negative aspect of the previous business-park location at Scripps Ranch was that the immediate vicinity had only similar office buildings and parking lots. However, in Escondido, students walk out the school doors right onto the sidewalks of downtown city life with its restaurants and shops. City Hall is only a block away.
On a different note, Connolly added that a recent John Paul graduate from Michigan and his brother had come out to the school because of a story about it in The Wanderer. “It was the first guy who told me explicitly he was there because of The Wanderer.”