Recent graduates Alex Booher and Alexandra Valdez came from different academic areas to the Film & Digital Arts department at The University of New Mexico, but both ended up in internships with Sandia National Laboratories where their skills in game development went far beyond gaming for entertainment.

The Sandia internships are under the guidance of Jon Whetzel and Nathan Fabian. Fabian is a Senior Member of the Sandia technical staff, Whetzel is a Principal Member of the Sandia technical staff, and both are adjunct professors at UNM co-teaching game development.

The internships came about because of the increase in using commercial gaming development skills for research and training purposes at Sandia.

“Sandia is looking for students with game development skills. The need is becoming greater and greater because we’re doing more and more in this area,” Whetzel said.

Video gaming has gone far beyond entertainment, and are increasingly helping Sandia’s mission of national security, Whetzel said, adding that using and applying gaming technology has spread throughout many of the labs’ departments.

“As games get more complex, we can see correlates between the game world and the real world. It creates a rich environment and datasets to test hypotheses about how groups are formed and how they react to changes in the environment, economic market disruptions, tribes or groups in conflict and how they resolve those conflicts, and decision making on policies that impact large populations. It’s a proxy for the real world,” Whetzel explained.

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