Why young Albertans say this is the place to grow their video game careers

It’s a reality he had only dreamed of before he started his certification. 

About two years ago, Cole Paskuski was exploring an education in virtual reality. He found few options for schools, but eventually the decision came down to either studying in Vancouver or Lethbridge. 

The 21-year-old decided to remain close to his Calgary home, and it paid off. 

“I had no idea what I was doing when I started my program, and … now I have a game studio with my other coworkers.”

With support from his professors and a grant from the Canadian Media Fund, Paskuski and some of his friends in the Virtual and Augmented Reality Certificate program at Lethbridge College have already started to make progress in their chosen careers, only months after leaving school. 

Cole Paskuski stands in a loose off-black blazer and loosened white button-up shirt. He's smiling at the camera , with his ear-lenght brown hair swooped to the side of his face.
Cole Paskuski chose to stay close to family instead of heading to a bigger city, but his career in virtual reality was hardly limited. He’s already working on a VR mobile game as co-founder of his game studio, Zoltech Studios. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

He is just one of the young Albertans ignoring the call of bigger Canadian cities, instead hoping to contribute to the digital media industry right here in the province. 

An exciting, and affordable, future 

At the first Alberta Games Series, a two-day conference dedicated to video games and digital media held in downtown Calgary last week, there were plenty of young people looking to make their mark on an industry that left an early impression on them. 

“I played Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 when I was six years old, and I said, ‘I wanna make that,'” said Loïc Cremer, a 26-year-old studying at the University of Calgary. 

26-year-old Loïc Cremer stands in front of a blue-purple vertical banner advertising the Alberta Games Series. His curly blonde hair sits messily as he smiles wide for the photo.
Loïc Cremer says the people he met at the Alberta Games Series opened his eyes to the number of studios taking on new projects in Calgary. While he says he’s flexible as to where his career might take him, he sees plenty of opportunity in Alberta’s major cities. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Cremer, like Paskuski, chose to stay close to family to start his education. He’s open to where future opportunities might take him, but in the meantime, he’s discovering more about Calgary’s video game community through events like the Alberta Games Series. 

“I thought Calgary was kind of dead for game studios, so I’ve learned a lot about, like, no, there’s tons of people doing tons of really interesting stuff,” said Cremer, who sees the appeal of starting at a small production studio. 

“It would be a really cool opportunity to be there when it starts, to have your finger on the pulse, to really be involved with those early decisions, rather than try to break into a big established studio.” 

Opportunities in the province’s budding industry also helped lure back Albertans from other parts of the country. 

In a white blouse, Christine Trong stands in front of a poster advertising the sponsors for the Alberta Games Series. Her long dark hair twists over her shoulders as the corners of her mouth turn up in a slight smile.
Christine Trong says that when she was looking to transition her career from oil and gas to video games, friends and acquaintances were skeptical. She began to teach herself with courses she found online, and eventually landed a job in the industry. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Christine Trong, 30, spent three years in Montreal working in oil and gas.

Along with a viable future in the career she wants, the affordability of life in her home province helped convince her to come back and put down permanent roots. 

“At first, I really thought I had to be somewhere else, like Montreal or even Toronto or B.C. But now that I’ve kind of looked around, Calgary is so affordable to stay,” said Trong, who has been working in the industry for two years. 

“And because of COVID and all, remote jobs are so popular. It’s possible to have a gaming career in Calgary, so I see myself staying.” 

Educating the next generation of talent

While Trong was able to launch her career without going back to school, many are looking for the program that will take them a step closer to a job. 

Fortunately, post-secondary institutions in Alberta have been steadily broadening their options for digital media certifications.

The most recent addition to the educational landscape is Bow Valley College’s Centre for Entertainment Arts, which offers diplomas in virtual production and game development. 

“There’s just a lot more opportunity and a lot more chances for students to actually take a program in something they want to do, specifically in video games,” said Jeff Clemens, an instructor at the college. 

Jeff Clemens laughs as the photo is taken. He is wearing a plaid t-shirt sleeve button up. His glasses are thicker and darker-rimmed. His beard and moustache are kept short.
Jeff Clemens, an instructor at Bow Valley College, says there are far more opportunities to get into the video game industry than when he was in school. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Clemens says they found immediate success with the new programs, showing it’s something that was “obviously needed.” 

“It’s been the first program where we’ve almost filled in our first offer with very little marketing. We have almost full classrooms,” said Clemens. 

“The ages vary quite a bit. It’s younger than our typical student because we do get quite a few students out of high school who are able to start successfully building.” 

A future past video games 

Clemens says they often field questions from parents who ask how many jobs there will be for graduating students. 

But according to Scott Nye, the COO of Inflexion Games in Edmonton and chair of Digital Alberta, the skills learned in programs like these are transferable to a variety of growing labour needs. 

Scott Nye's grey hair is swept back as he watches two men use small controllers to play a video game on a tablet. Nye holds onto a Canada Dry Ginger Ale as he watches the two play.
Scott Nye, centre, looks on as two people play a mobile game on a tablet set up at the Alberta Games Series. Nye says there is a future of great opportunities for those getting an education in video games, even if it ends up being outside the industry. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

“The same programmers and designers that we require at Inflexion games to make player-facing content that’s consumed around the world is the exact same talent that companies are looking for in order to develop AR/VR (augmented/virtual reality) solutions for health care,” Nye said. 

He says there are a number of companies in non-gaming industries that support the development of interactive digital media technologies and education in the province because of the value it brings to different sectors, like health care and resource development. 


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