WILKES-BARRE — It started as a simple game of virtual pingpong.
Now, the video-game industry has evolved into a billion-dollar industry.
And area colleges are starting to embrace it. Penn State Wilkes-Barre now offers a gaming development minor, and Lackawanna College is starting an e-sports team with scholarship opportunities attached.
How people interact with video games and their role in society was the focus Thursday night at the THINK Center for the fifth installment of the Wilkes-Barre Connect Spotlight Series.
Transformed into a gamer’s paradise — equipped with pizza, bean bag chairs and Jenga — residents and students convened at the center to discuss gaming.
Jeremy Benscoter and Brandi Brace took questions about their newly released “Cubed,” a time trial game.
“The point of the game is to get to the end as quickly as possible,” Benscoter said.
The husband-and-wife duo developed “Cubed” over the last two years. Benscoter said it was inspired by the video game series “Trials.”
Benscoter, founder of Atlantic Divide Games, said “Cubed” is designed to get more difficult as players progress, and it offers different visual designs for players.
“We are very player-focused,” he said.
The game launched April 20, and it’s free on both iOS and Android.
“I’ve wanted to make games since I was a kid,” Benscoter noted.
Brace wants to get kids involved in gaming, and the two have held video-game camps and are planning a “game jam” for college students in the fall. It will be a 48-hour event where teams get together to develop a game and have a chance to win a prize.
“It’s so many things that go into making a game,” Brace said. “It’s not just programming. It’s art, it’s design, it’s math, it’s everything.”
Keynote speaker Chris Bennett is co-founder and CEO of Skyless Game Studios, an independent video-game company based in Philadelphia.
Bennett said the goal of Skyless is to use its games to support social, educational and philanthropic causes. He called them games “with a purpose.”
“We show how broadly applicable games can be,” said Bennett.
For instance, Skyless has worked on a training game called “Follow the Money,” which was developed for corruption investigators.
It is also developing “AssembleIt,” a two-player puzzle game for children on the autism spectrum to use play, teamwork and problem-solving skills to develop strong connections between players.
“I wanted to work on something that can make an impact,” said Bennett.
A graduate of Drexel University, he founded the company with fellow students in 2012 with the goal of combining philanthropy and games.
He also talked about the challenges that come with being a start-up.
“Entrepreneurship is hard,” Bennett laughed.
He said it helps that he’s doing something he’s passionate about.
Kaleen Singh, a Penn State Wilkes-Barre senior, was featured in the event’s video spotlight. She’s developing her own game, “Another Day.”
It’s an adventure, action simulator game that teaches players about different mental illnesses.
She said there are eight main characters, each with their own mental issue and objective. The characters even have diverse ethnicities.
“Bringing awareness to mental illness is so important to me,” said Singh. “Anyone around the world can have a mental illness.”
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds