Jingyu Zhuang, who will graduate in May with dual degrees in game development and computer science, has traveled halfway around the world to be in a community that supports and pushes and challenges him to be the best he can be. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he says, he’s in the right place.
Growing up in Nanchang, a small city in central China, Zhuang says he was different from many of his classmates. He had grown up playing video games with his father and knew from early in his high school career that he wanted to come to the United States to learn computer game design. But his hometown rarely produced students who left home to study abroad. So, when Zhuang approached his parents with idea of studying game design in America, they were upset and confused.
“We got into an argument for a couple of days,” Zhuang said. “I was trying to convince them that even though I was attending the best high school in the region and doing really well, I wasn’t on the right path toward my dream. And I did have a plan to forge that path.”
Zhuang had realized he wanted to do more than just play the games he had learned at his father’s side. He wanted to design them. In high school, he had created a simple game where the characters were friends and family. “I just felt so much joy in the process of making that game, and more importantly, watching them enjoying the experience I created,” Zhuang said.
That sense of achievement pushed him to forge his own path. He spent years improving his English and researching game design programs at universities in the United States, and he was drawn to Rensselaer because of its coursework, faculty, and reputation. Troy also happens to be similar in size and situation to Nanchang. Perhaps, Zhuang admits, he was looking for a home-away-from-home.
Like many international students, Zhuang says he struggled to fit in to the American culture the first few years in the United States. He found strength and friends in the process of game design.
“Game design is also a creative medium that gives me the power of expressing myself,” he said. “So, when I was not able to express myself clearly with language, game design became another way of expression.”
To strengthen his community, he joined the Rensselaer Game Developers Club and became active in the campus Chinese Student Association, which proved to be an incredible resource during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the travel limits put in place since the start of the global health crisis, Zhuang hasn’t been home to see his family since the summer of 2019.
But just like when he was younger, Zhuang turned to video games to express his desire to connect and build his community. When it became likely that his family wouldn’t be able to travel to Troy to see him graduate this May, Zhuang designed a new game, Voyage, that uses real-time geodata from Google Maps to create a world in which his friends and family in China can see his new community here in America.
In January 2021, Zhuang won the inaugural Vicarious Visions Pathfinder award, an annual merit-based scholarship presented in recognition of demonstrated excellence in game development that was established as part of a multi-year partnership between the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program at Rensselaer and Vicarious Visions, one of the world’s leading game development companies.
He has also worked on a number of notable projects, including his game Cube Adventure, which previously won the top prize at the Albany iThrive Cooperation Game Jam.
“RPI is definitely the place for me,” Zhuang said. “Between the amazing faculty, who have such broad knowledge and experience in the industry, and my fellow students, who are all creating original and innovative projects, I’m constantly inspired and pushed to be better.”
Zhuang would ultimately like to create a game that appeals to a large audience. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in entertainment technology this fall at Carnegie Mellon University.