For Calgary teens and young adults who want to be part of the $131 billion business of video games, the city offers few opportunities to learn the practical and technical skills of gaming programs. However, the Calgary Game Developers Academy for Youths (CGDAY) has been trying to change that.

Shawn Tracz, a 20-year-old student, is one of those young adults.

“I was bullied a lot as a kid,” he says. “Gaming was always my escape from that. The reason I want to learn how to make games is so that kids who are going through the same things that I went through as a kid can also have that escape.”

Naturally, gaming has always been at the top of his list when thinking about potential careers. Luckily, Tracz stumbled upon CGDAY through a school program.

He was immediately hooked.

Created five years ago by owner and operator Marcel Burca, CGDAY specializes in teaching video game development.

Burca began the business because of his passion for video games. After moving to Vancouver to pursue a career in gaming development, he moved back to Calgary eager to share his knowledge.

“Gaming has always been a passion of mine,” says Burca. “I’ve always had an interest in teaching in some capacity and I thought that video game development was the best avenue for that.”

To help young people advance their skills, CGDAY offers four tiers of classes. The first tier includes level design and world building basics. The second tier includes audio visualization and special effects. The third tier includes user interface design and visual scripting. The final tier includes intermediate game design and world building.

The academy also provides a variety of resources, including a gaming lounge with classic and modern consoles, a recreation area with foosball, ping pong and air hockey tables and a learning area for students equipped with 10 computers.

Although the academy is designed to inspire students, Burca says the majority of them come back because they enjoy the curriculum.

“I am constantly redeveloping my curriculum and improve it on a regular basis because technology is evolving and I feel my curriculum should as well,” he says.

According to Burca, CGDAY specializes in teaching kids how to use Autodesk 3Ds Max and the software Unreal Game Engine. He believes these skills can be applied outside gaming.

“I like to teach students how to use technical tools that will benefit them in any industry,” he says. “They don’t necessarily need to apply this knowledge to gaming — you can apply it to almost any field.

“For example, in engineering, it’s a requirement to understand AutoCAD or SOLIDWORKS. So, having an understanding of the tools we use in our classes will be a huge help to those kids entering that field.”

One parent excited about the education provided by CGDAY is Tracz’s mother, Elaine. She says her son finding CGDAY was a major relief.

“He always wanted to do this as a career, even when he was younger,” she says. “For us it was asking where could we find somewhere he could do this. We searched online and thankfully found Marcel because a lot of results were for places in the [United] States.”

Burca continues to see progress in Tracz’s ability and his work ethic. He’s also thrilled about the commitment his parents have demonstrated.

“Over the years he’s been persistent and working hard at it,” says Burca. “His family even went out and got a computer for him so that he could continue to develop his skills, which is so great.”

Elaine says Shawn has developed as a person during the four years that he’s been attending CGDAY.

“His confidence levels are up high now,” she says. “Marcel has been a perfect teacher for Shawn’s personality. It’s been a smooth ride and that’s why we’re still here.”

Burca says he enjoys the teaching process with all his students, including with Tracz. He says the shy kid that entered his program has really taken steps forward.

“He’s been showing so much enthusiasm,” says Burca. “He was very quiet at the start and now he’s coming out of his shell a lot.”

Elaine says she’s impressed with her son’s skill development.

“Shawn amazes me with all the information that he has learned,” she says. “He surpassed me a long time ago with all the gaming knowledge. For my generation, it’s kind of scary with all the information that’s out there so to have a place I feel comfortable with sending Shawn is awesome.”

Burca says working in a creative space with youth is gratifying.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things in my life,” he says. “To help children and teens discover a completely new path where their only limitation is their creativity is so rewarding.”

Editor: Sajan Jabbal |

Editors Note: This story is part of the Calgary Journal’s November-December print issue. You can find a digital version here, or grab a copy at news stands across the city.

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