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The Game of Afterlife

Image from Summerland video game shows a door standing in a field with a number 1 on it. A police car is parked nearby.

Written by CAYLIE SILVEIRA
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As living beings on Earth, we will never know with full certainty what awaits in the afterlife. Perhaps it’s in a video game. That’s how one West Virginia University student, so undertaken with the fear of death, tried to make sense of his existential anxiety – he created a video game.

Conner Rush, a freshman computer science major in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, developed this first-person narrative game called Summerland that explores mortality and afterlife.

 

Gamers get to play as Matthew, a detective reliving his past to understand what happened to him.

 

Summerland comes on the heels of a handful of previous video games developed by Rush, a native of Fairmont, W.Va. Like most avid gamers, he started playing at a young age, dreaming of one day creating his own games. Titles like Lego Star Wars and Kingdom Hearts fed his initial appetite for all things gaming.

 

At age 12, Rush produced his first video game, but never released it. 

 

“My first game ever was called Something of a Dream and it never got released,” he said. “It was really bad. I actually found the files recently and went back and played it. And I was like, ‘Wow, I really thought I did something here.’”

 

About a year later, he published his first game on a video game distribution site, Steam, thus creating his studio, FYRE games. Since then, his games have only gotten more complex.

 

In addition to creating complex storylines, Rush also produces all the music in his games by using acoustic and electronic instruments including guitars, pianos, synthesizers and drums.

 

Then in December 2020, Rush released his most successful game to date, Summerland, a roughly two-hour game that explores the possibility of the afterlife. This game was derived from an earlier game he created called Welcome to the Dreamscape.

 

Rush created Summerland as a coping mechanism for his anxiety surrounding his fear of death since it was a way for him to put his thoughts into a fictional space where he could visually see them play out.

 

“Even if it’s not a correct answer, ’cause it’s obvious this game is totally fictionalized in every way, it kind of helped me wrap my head around certain ideas that I wasn’t able to before this big picture,” he said. “Aside from that, I just think it's a really interesting thing to explore in this medium.”

 

Rush credits games such as What Remains of Edith Finch as inspiration for Summerland because it uses a first-person narrative that allows the user to emerge fully in a storyline unlike the big studio shooter games.

 

Additionally, Rush saw success for the game through his TikTok platform because he decided to promote voiceover auditions to his 10,000 followers, and it went viral. He received about 5,000 auditions from people on the platform, including some from veteran actors in the industry.

 

“I had actual professional AAA voice actors going out for this game, which was crazy, and I’m super thankful for that,” Rush said. “But even from that, it got the word out there to people who are in the industry and more famous people who know the game exists now.”

 

According to Rush, Summerland has more than 100,000 downloads and 900 reviews with an overall 90 percent positivity rating.

 

When asked if he has a hard time balancing his gaming with school, he answers that gaming usually wins.

 

“I maintain my grades,” Rush said. “I have almost a 4.0 grade point average, so I’m doing well. It’s just a lot of added stress that I don’t need to put on myself. If I’m not making games, then I’m not going to be happy. So usually the school stuff tends to come second when it shouldn’t, but I’m getting better at balancing those things.”

 

As for the future, Rush is in the early stages of developing a new game. He says that his end goal is to make a living in the field.


Download and play Summerland on Steam.