Cameron Peterson, '24, composing music for his video game on his plug-in keyboard

Game on! Senior revels in designing video game

January 30, 2024

A life-and-death struggle between good and evil rages. Each contestant must defeat a resurrected, ancient evil in a series of different worlds — from jungle, to desert, to beach, and more. In the twelfth, and final, world, competitors must vanquish the strongest, most diabolical enemy to achieve the ultimate victory.

This is how Cameron Peterson, ’24, describes the video game he is creating. The leadership studies and music double major said he began composing the game’s music just over a year ago. Ultimately, he plans to build the entire video game himself, including the art, narrative, and even the mechanics — the latter after teaching himself coding.

“It’s my life work right now,” he said. “I have a lot of pride in it, and I’m willing to put in whatever is necessary to bring it to fruition.”

While working on what he calls his “passion project,” Peterson also is researching the elements of gaming for his Jepson School of Leadership Studies honors thesis. Dr. Kristin Bezio, who studies leadership in literature, video games, and film, is his faculty thesis advisor.  

“I recently finished the first part of my thesis, which describes the fundamentals of a good video game,” he said. “Next, I will dive into how to create the music. In the final section, I will use my own game as a case study to explain the choices I will make in creating the game.”

The senior from Henrico County, Virginia, said the two most important elements of a video game are its narrative and music.

“The narrative must be compelling,” he said. “Gamers must care about the characters and want a good ending. The music evokes certain emotions at key points in the game. When your character arrives at a burning village and melancholy music is playing, you understand the devastation. The music becomes intense when your character enters into battle with an enemy. Your energy levels rise, your heartbeat quickens, you are honed into the game.”

A percussionist who plays drum set, xylophone, timpani, and snare drum, Peterson is composing the melodies for his game on a plug-in keyboard. He said he is fascinated by how games make people think and the implications that has for leadership.

“Can games help people become better leaders by encouraging them to make more rational decisions and developing their empathy?” he asked. “The concept of fun failure, researched by gaming scholar Jesper Juul, is unique to games. You project yourself onto a digital avatar and push yourself to try again and again until you succeed. Similarly, a good leader must have the drive to pick themself up after failing and try again.”

Peterson will present his honors research at the Jepson Research Symposium on April 19. He said he anticipates launching his video game sometime between 2028-2030.

“A career as a game composer is my pipe dream,” he said with a laugh. “The best way for me to make an impact is to do what I know — create. I want a career where I can express creativity in a way that people can derive happiness from it.”