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“If you could do anything in the world for a living, what would it be?”

Lacey Lansaw was struggling to choose her next career move when her fiancé asked her that question. “After a few moments, my first thought was game design,” she recalled.

The senior in the Gaming Institute at Eastern Kentucky University had already earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Kentucky when she decided not to continue in the field. Lansaw had loved playing video games such as Mario, Spyro, and Crash Bandicoot growing up, but could only imagine two years ago making a career in game design. She took Intro to Game Design summer course at EKU and fell in love with the field.

“I can be creative, I can be artistic, I can be technical, I can make people laugh and smile while playing my games, and it’s just fun to do,” she said.

Since coming to EKU, Lansaw said she has become more involved in activities outside the classroom. “Game development is a competitive field, so just doing classes isn’t enough.” To call her ‘involved’ may be an understatement, since she has co-founded two student organizations: an academic chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and the Women in Technology Club.

Dr. George Landon, director of the EKU Gaming Institute, approached Lansaw her first semester about starting an IGDA chapter. “The game design program is still pretty young,” she said, “so we wanted to create a club to serve as a support system for students to meet their peers, meet and learn from professionals, and work on games together.” The group meets every Thursday and attends conferences, workshops, game jams, and talks from industry professionals.

Lansaw was inspired to establish the Women in Technology Club once she noticed that she was often the only woman in her computer science classes, representing the larger issue of the lack of women entering STEM fields. “Computer science is not an easy degree to get and if you have no one to really relate to, it can be isolating,” she said. “The Women in Technology Club’s goal is to provide a space for all of the women in not only our department, but other tech-related departments at EKU to gather and support each other.”

The club hosts one event a month, holds talks from women in technology fields, and attends conferences, such as the Women in Computing Conference held earlier in the semester.

Through the EKU Gaming Institute, ranked by Princeton Review among the top 50 game design programs in the world, Lansaw has enjoyed the opportunity to network with game design professionals she admires. She has met the senior quest designer and level designer from Guerilla Games, both of whom worked on games such as Horizon Zero Dawn.

Lansaw has also participated in Train Jam, an event in which students are divided into teams and placed on a train from Chicago to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. They have only the 52-hour train ride to develop a video game. The event was eye-opening for Lansaw: “Doing Train Jam and then going to the Game Developers Conference really helped me solidify what part of game development I want to get into.”

The part she chose was level design. Lansaw described level design as designing the levels, missions or quests in a video game, creating gameplay that makes sense with the game design. “Level design is both technical and artistic,” she said. “If you think about a typical town or city, some level designer laid out all of the buildings, placed the NPCs, placed the random items and objects. It’s tedious, but I enjoy it!”

Lansaw has already been able to try her hand at what she loves. Dr. Andrew Byrd, a linguistics professor at UK, and his class approached the Gaming Institute with the idea for a game called Anatolian Trail. The role-playing game follows two archaeology students who are transported back to the year 3000 B.C. by a magical object. To return home, the players must receive blessings from all the Anatolian gods by completing various quests. She said that she is excited to be part of the development for a game that includes unrepresented languages and cultures.

Anatolian Trail, Lansaw’s most ambitious project, is currently in pre-production, and she hopes to have a prototype ready in a year. She hopes to eventually release the game and some of her other projects for PC. Her projects are documented on her Twitter account, @lacey_lansaw.

Lansaw graduates on May 12 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, with a concentration in interactive multimedia. She credits Landon with guiding her to where she is today. “He has really helped me find my path in game development,” she said.  “You can tell he really cares about his students and wants them and this program to succeed.”

What does someone who has already accomplished so much dream of doing next? Lansaw said she eventually hopes to build her own independent game studio.

“I just want to make games that make people think,” she said, recalling the diverse Anatolian Trail. “I want people to play my game and, after they finish, realize they learned something new or see something differently.”

— by Madison Davis, student writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management