I never thought my third and final “My Day at Camp” assignment of the summer would end with me fighting zombies.
But that’s exactly what happened, and a lot more, when I arrived at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale for Summer Engineering Camp.
In its second year offering camp, Octane Raceway once again partnered with East Valley Engineering for Kids, a STEM-focused organization that offers classes, after-school programs, parties, camps, clubs and more at locations Valleywide (including AZ Airtime in Scottsdale and Makutu’s Island in Chandler).
Rather than having kids simply race go-karts across the ⅓-mile track and play arcade games (as fun as that is), kids get the opportunity to learn about computer coding, robotics and game design.
On my visit, eleven boys (ages 9-14) and I were playing Minecraft and learning a few coding hacks. But first, I needed a crash course on how to play.
Minecraft, an incredibly popular video game and favorite teaching tool for computer coding, promotes building and creating gaming “worlds.” Players can fashion everything in their world including entire towns and the surrounding landscapes. My only experience with Minecraft was seeing my own children obsessively playing it on their PlayStation 4.
Logging in on the mini laptops provided by Engineering for Kids seemed easy enough. I quickly picked my character — a red-headed girl with green eyes made to look like the simple, pixelated video game heroes of 1980s Atari and Sega games.
After a brief tutorial, and with the help of Jake, the camp instructor, my little avatar was soon digging holes in green, pixelated hills, chopping down blocky bushes and building a small stone house to call her own. Things got more complicated as we all played the game together on a community server.
Being the noob (or newbie) of the group, I promptly fell into a hole that may or may not have been a trap. I had no idea how to escape — and my fellow campers?
They buried me in the hole.
Thank goodness for 12-year-old Jack from Phoenix, who came to my rescue, digging me up and showing me how to fly out. Instructor Jake showed us how to construct and place Java-coded treasure chests, and my camp mates joked and taught each other tricks. They shared tips like how to create foes like “Mobzilla,” a digital version of the famous monstrous lizard, and how to set a “waypoint” game modification — or mod — to get back to the location where their characters started if they wandered too far in the ever-expansive landscapes.
After getting lost in an endless video game universe, the first part of camp zoomed by.
And then it was time to go racing.
Just like the pros, we donned black head socks under shiny racing helmets, strapped ourselves into electric go-karts and watched a quick safety video. With just a few adjustments to the pedals and steering-wheel heights, we were ready for the indoor/outdoor track.
As the teenage race attendants checked the seat belts and went over all the racing rules — including no bumping and what to do if your kart stalls — then the karts lit up and buzzed to life with a pulse of electricity.
Our first lap would be at half power — about 13 mph — with no passing during the entire circuit, which we all completed with ease. On our second turn, we would let loose at 25 mph and speed past each other as fast as we could. My red-stripped kart was last out of the gate, so I had a lot of catching up to do.
I slammed my foot down on the pedal as hard as I could, certain I could overtake at least a few kids. Gripping the wheel, I screeched into the first turn barely missing the plastic guard. When the road weaved from the cool indoors to the shaded outdoor section, misters placed behind huge fans blew a refreshing breeze on us. Back inside, I pressed my pedal up and down for another two laps, crashing into walls and peeling around curves.
I came in dead last.
The second lap was pretty much a repeat of the first, but I did manage to pass another racer — because he had stalled out.
As the boys returned to their Minecraft games, and I nursed my bruised ego, I was able to play a short round of zombie survival in Octane’s brand new Velocity Virtual Realty free-roam game. (Kids could play a more age-appropriate space-themed virtual reality game.) The zombie game was intense; at the end, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating like I’d just run a marathon.
With zombies, Minecraft duals and racing, there was nothing boring about this summer camp.
If you go: Octane Raceway’s Summer Engineering Camp (hosted by East Valley Engineering for Kids) is for ages 9-15 (kids must be at least 54-inches tall). $250-$350/week. 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; extended care available until 5:30 p.m. for an additional fee. 9119 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale. 602-302-7223 or octaneraceway.com