Although the COVID-19 pandemic stopped all in-person, on-campus events, including Commencement, it didn’t prevent the Interactive Media and Game Development (IMGD) program from celebrating its graduates.
On May 22, IMGD faculty sent off its graduates with a virtual Commencement, which was designed through Minecraft Education Edition (a branch of the popular videogame Minecraft). Faculty members, graduates, and current students built a Minecraft-style WPI campus, and created their own “skin” in order to have an avatar live and move on campus. Commencement attendees watched via Zoom.
“The IMGD community functions as a community precisely because we celebrate one another throughout the year. Of course, we needed to celebrate our graduating class of 2020!” says Jennifer deWinter, department head. “We worked hard with our representatives from the student chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association to figure out the correct venue, make it fully accessible to all students, and celebrate each student’s accomplishments.”
The live-streamed virtual commencement—now available to watch on the IMGD Class of 2020 website— featured opening remarks from Jean King, Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences, parting words from faculty members, both calm and disastrous weather, and a big bang at the end.
“I was personally thrilled with the creativity of the students, building the environment, creating personalized avatars, and hiding IMGD-specific Easter eggs all over the place,” deWinter says.
While the Minecraft Commencement didn’t replace the traditional exercises, it was still a way to celebrate students’ achievements. DeWinter says that current IMGD students asked if the department could have this event every year, since it felt personalized and catered to their experiences at WPI.
“While Covid-19 has disrupted so much of our typical approaches to a college experience, we have been privileged to work with students to face this disruption with creativity and empathy,” she says. “It has compelled us to think about future activities for our students as part of a program that focuses on experience design and close collaboration.”
Here are some highlights of the Minecraft commencement: