PALO ALTO, Calif.--For two weeks in August, 13-year-old Malcolm Lazarow is in a kind of hog heaven for computer gamers.
One of thousands of kids attending iD Tech Camps on college campuses across the country this summer, Lazarow is here at Stanford University in a vacated fraternity house filled with desks, computers and teenage boys.
It's Lazarow's third year at iD Tech camps, which he learned about from a friend. The first two years, he returned each day to his home in Hillsborough, Calif., which is about 30 minutes from Stanford. But this year, he stayed overnight in the dorms during the weeklong sessions. (Kids have the option to be day campers for $729 per week or overnight guests at $1,129 per week, with food.)
"We can stay up until 11 p.m. and play games like WWII Call of Duty and the fun never ends until Friday," he said Wednesday, while tooling with a 3D character he was modeling for his morning video-editing course.
In all, three empty fraternity houses at Stanford are turned into a teenage computer geek's dream for nine weeks each summer. Stanford, which has been participating in the program for the past eight years, is unique among the 50 or so campuses that host iD Tech camps because it draws the most kids from around the country and internationally. Smaller campuses might draw only 80 youths per week, but on average, Stanford draws about 240 kids per week. Ages range from 7 to 17.
Kids take classes on video game design, Web design, digital video editing, programming and robotics (a new class offered this year), for a total of about six hours daily on the computer. At the end of a week, students will have been schooled in how to create a 3D video game, program a chat bot, learn game "modding," build a robot, or film and edit movie, depending on which courses they choose.
Business is good for kid tech camps, too, given that boys and girls who are naturally drawn to computers have few other resources to indulge their passion throughout the year. Many of the kids at Stanford said that they rarely get the same concentrated experience working on computers in their daily life, nor do they get as much of a challenge in school computer classes. For this reason, Karen Thurm Safran, vice president of marketing for Campbell, Calif.-based iD Tech, said that that the summer tech programs grew by 25 percent this year.
For counselors working with the kids, that growth has called for more organization.
"It's a fairly new phenomenon--kids wanting to go to tech camp. But since I've been here, it's been growing every year," said Neil Lambert, 22-year-old assistant director at the program who's been working at this camp for three years. "This is our most organized year, and we're trying to take a more individualized approach with the students."
For every five students, there's one teacher, Lambert said.
And it's not just six hours a day on the computer for these kids, although some don't want to let go of the keyboard and mouse, according to Lydia Luxama, the director of the program who is known as "Big Apple" because she teaches English in New York during the school year. She said iD Tech boasts camp-like activities, too. During the day, kids will have water balloon fights, play dodge ball, or feast on Quiznos sandwich platters. At night, kids might play Guitar Hero or participate in the weekly talent night, which has featured two teens facing off on solving a Rubik Cube. (This week, the winner put the cube in right order within about 90 seconds.)
Still, the iD Tech camps are sorely lacking in girls. About 80 percent of the more than 2,000 kids that will attend iD Tech camps at Stanford this summer are boys. That figure likely mirrors overall trends in the computer science industry of men versus women. But the camp's directors say they're constantly reaching out to girls to gain more interest.
Back at camp, Jimmy McChristy, a 17-year-old who's on his fourth year at iD Tech camps, is collaborating with several other students in his digital video-editing class. They are creating a four-minute video takeoff on The Matrix, which they hope to post to YouTube when they're done.
While he learns programs like Adobe AfterEffects and Final Cut Pro, McChristy is creating animated laser guns and "dematerialized" people (which can appear to die by pixelating) so that they can meld those effects into actual footage taken from the basement of the fraternity hall. "Using effects, we jack ourselves in the PC," the Santa Fe, N.M., teen said.
McChristy said he keeps returning to iD camp because computers are what he sees in his future. After all, he's been crazy about them since the age of 10, when his dad showed him a few games like Mac Warrior. He plans to study computer science at San Jose State University or the University of New Mexico.
For Lazarow--unlike many of the campers who want to pursue a career in computer science--technology is still just a hobby. He said he likes to take his favorite characters, like Sonex, and then model and animate them in his own way to create new characters. On Wednesday, Lazarow was working on his own character called Knuckles, a blue hedgehog that he managed to animate in a day.
"I like creating something from scratch," he said. That tendency could ultimately lend well to Lazarow's perceived calling:
"I want to be a composer of classical soundtracks--like John Williams."
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Stefanie Olsen covers science and technology for CNET News.com. In this series, she examines the young generation's unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.
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