By Jingyu Zhuang, Game and Simulation Arts and Science, and Computer Science

In 2020, the spread of the global pandemic had forced everyone to go into lockdown and self-quarantine. As a senior student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Instititute planning to have my whole family coming to the United States to attend my graduation ceremony, our plan was ruined by the endless, growing number of infections. And as I realized that the problem is affecting everyone on the planet, an idea started to form in my head. In September 2020, I founded a video game project named Voyage to respond to this problem in my way as a game developer.

The project was developed in four months under the instruction and advice of Professor Kathleen Ruiz. Collecting real-time geodata from Google Maps, it simulates the entire planet and turns it into a massive open-world sandbox. I developed an online server so people across the globe can meet with each other and travel together to any place on the Earth. They can also plant trees and flowers in this virtual world as their spiritual sustenance and those creations will be exhibited in the world forever — not only visited by other players, but also lighting up the local region. The intended experience is to hang out virtually any place on the planet and share positivity with other players within the virtual space.

As I launched the game and showcased the idea to more people, they all started to go into the world and share their experiences with me: My parents got to meet me virtually and have a tour at the foreign university where their son spent four years living and studying; one of my close friends who is an international student in London went home virtually and spent hours planting trees decorating her hometown; my course instructor, Professor Ruiz, got to visit her friend in Singapore virtually. This virtual world was filled with people and their creations. With the project, I had the honor to be the recipient of the inaugural Vicarious Visions Pathfinder Award. While being extremely humbled, I believe this is a sign of success for the project to bring people together in the pandemic and spread out a sense of hope in the medium of games.

I have always believed that game is much more than just entertainment. It carries values and impacts and can affect people in a very profound way. On the mainstream, the noticeable commercial value often conceals the potential in video games as a creative medium. I believe the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program at Rensselaer was founded to explore this potential and further push the boundary of video games as a powerful medium for creative expression. I intend to continue my pursuit as a game developer, to deliver more innovative and meaningful experiences to larger audiences.