Just because most summer camps can’t meet in person this year doesn’t mean they have to be completely cancelled! I met with our friend Jamie Harris of Satellite Gaming to talk about two camps his organization has been involved with coordinating this month: Nerd Camp, a youth leadership camp that ran from July 8–10, and Camp Solo, a summer camp experience that will take place July 29-31.
April-Lyn Caouette (Love Thy Nerd): In general, how has the pandemic changed the work that Satellite Gaming does? What challenges and opportunities have there been?
Jamie Harris (Satellite Gaming): We have not been able to do anything in person since March. We have had to cancel a ton of summer activities, including two of our own camps and at least five camps that we were supposed to speak or present at. In addition, the organization that funds our after school programs was dissolved, so this fall is going to look WAY different than what we planned. We’ve had to come up with that chunk of income (approximately a quarter of our annual expenses). More importantly—we want to continue to be present in the lives of students in our communities, and we have had to figure out how to make that happen from a distance.
As far as challenges and opportunities, I actually like what the pandemic has forced us to do. With the world as it is now, we can’t be complacent and just do “what we’ve always done.” We have to think differently. Has it been hard? Absolutely. Have we grown and learned from it? One hundred percent.Leadership activities when I was a kid were something like, “Everyone stand on this tarp and flip it over without getting off of it.” Like… that’s cool, but D&D? Come on… that’s sick.
A-L: What was Nerd Camp, and what inspired you to run it?
Jamie: Nerd Camp was a leadership camp where young nerds could learn more about nerd culture and how it can play a positive role in their future. The original passion behind a leadership camp for nerds was to replicate basketball/baseball camps or retreats. We wanted to create an experience where students would learn techniques in their field of interest, but also have awesome experiences and learn about leadership. The reason we went online was, of course, due to the pandemic. Nerd Camp this summer was a “beta test” so to speak, so it was by invitation only. We just reviewed it and we are planning on bringing it back in the fall—but next time, opening it up to students everywhere!
A-L: What was the response like?
Jamie: The response was exactly what we were looking for! We had ten students total, mostly from our local area of Salem/Keizer, Oregon. We also had one participant from Washington and one more from Mexico. The students were a mixture of middle school and high school students, and if you include volunteers and staff there were about twenty participants in all. As for response to the programming, there are some things the students enjoyed, and to be completely transparent, some they didn’t! [laughs] We will take their feedback and learn from it! It’s going to be GREAT!
A-L: What were some stand-out moments for you? What was exciting?
Jamie: Because we wanted to instill the value of the gospel in our leaders-in-training, we asked Drew Dixon (LTN’s Chief Content Nerd) to do a gospel teaching. He shared the story of Jesus in a way that communicated that Jesus was a human being and that anyone can relate to him.
Another stand-out moment for me was that most of the students loved our D&D session and now are way into it! Before this event only a couple of our students had ever played. Of course, some of them definitely did NOT like it. But to be honest, it was cool to see them stick it out and play anyway for the sake of their squad/party.
I also loved the workshops that we offered. Even I learned a bunch from them! So cool. They learned about programming, game design, artwork, how to build a career in nerd culture… and so much more.
A-L: What was exciting about the experience for you personally?
Jamie: Honestly, doing something different than what we normally do was a lot of fun! I had the opportunity to create something I would have LOVED as a youth. Like… how awesome would it be to participate in a D&D campaign that was built just for me and my friends and that was used as a leadership training experience? Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but… leadership activities when I was a kid were something like “everyone stand on this tarp and flip it over without getting off of it.” Like… that’s cool, but D&D? Come on… that’s sick.
A-L: What do you think the participants got out of the experience?
Jamie: First of all, students met leaders who shared their passions, which was an opportunity to build lifelong mentorship relationships. They also learned about how they might want to build a future in gaming/nerd culture… and maybe how they don’t want to. Finally, they learned about the love of Jesus in a way that was relatable to their world and understanding.
To be honest, I hope we all learned from it. Leaders learned how we can do better, students learned about Jesus and how he is TOTALLY cool with us being nerdy… and to be honest, I think he celebrates our nerdiness!
A-L: Nerd Camp is done and gone, but you have another camp opportunity coming up in a few weeks called Camp Solo. How did Camp Solo start as an idea?
Jamie: We were approached by an organization called Mission Increase Foundation. They wanted to serve camps that wouldn’t be able to otherwise operate this summer, and they wanted to do this by creating a digital camp experience that would give camps a place to point their students and families to. MIF also wanted to make sure that the project was 100% funded before going into it. That way, students wouldn’t have to pay a dime. In turn, we are encouraging families and students to make a donation to their regularly attended camps in exchange for a free experience with Camp Solo.
A-L: How is Camp Solo similar to Nerd Camp? How is it going to be different?
Jamie: Nerd Camp was designed to be an experience exclusive to young nerds, so everything was centered around nerdiness. It was also invite-only for Satellite Gaming’s student leaders, so the experience centered on leadership training.We want students to know that we see them, and we hear them—and so does Jesus.
Camp Solo is open to students anywhere, and instead of being geared just toward nerds, it’s going to have every traditional Christian camp experience… just in digital form! For example: “cabin time” will be done over Zoom, and the worship music will be done through pre-recorded videos. We’ll have online camp games and activities such as workouts, cooking shows, online gaming sponsored by LTN, watch parties, and social media scavenger hunts. And we’ll have morning devotionals in a live podcast format.
A-L: What do you hope that students get out of Camp Solo?
Jamie: Social distancing has been hard on everyone these past few months, and students are no exception. Humans are by our very nature social creatures, and we rely on human interaction for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Right now for most of us, those interactions are at an all-time low. During this time, students may feel like they aren’t being seen and they aren’t being heard. We want students to know that we see them, and we hear them—and so does Jesus. My hope is that they learn that they can still be engaged in a personal relationship with Jesus, and experience community, during this pandemic. We are doing our best to give them the best camp experience that we can given the circumstances, and I hope they have a blast!
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A big thanks to to Jamie for his time and everything he and Satellite Gaming do! If you want to learn more about Camp Solo and/or register a student in your life as a participant, visit https://campsolo.net/.
And if you’d like to learn more about how you could use gaming in your own summer camps or youth ministry, check out Developing Digital Disciples, a youth discipleship toolkit created in collaboration between Satellite Gaming, Love Thy Nerd, and Urban Youth Workers Insitute (UYWI)!