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Camp counselors gather around a fire in The Quarry

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What would the ideal summer camp video game be like?

We asked 6 studios for their summer camp elevator pitches

The Quarry
| Image: Supermassive Games
Mike Mahardy leads game criticism and curation at Polygon as senior editor, reviews. He has been covering entertainment professionally for more than 10 years.

For all of its impact on movies, TV, and books, the American sleep-away camp has made an exceedingly miniscule dent on the digital worlds of video games.

The original Psychonauts placed its government training facility at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, and 2017’s Friday the 13th the Game brought us back to the iconic Camp Crystal Lake. Supermassive Games is also fresh off its newest release, The Quarry, which pits nine camp counselors in a fight for their lives against supernatural forces. But these games are anomalies in the grand scheme of things. Movies like Meatballs, Heavyweights, Addams Family Values, and Wet Hot American Summer established summer camp films as a pop culture force, and TV shows like Camp Lazlo and American Horror Story: 1984 followed suit. Video games have yet to treat summer camps like the mainstream genre that they are.

But that won’t stop us from dreaming. Nor, evidently, has it stopped developers from doing the same. We reached out to six studios to ask what their ideal summer camp game would look like, regardless of budget or timeline, and their responses were as varied as the games they’ve actually made.

Now, our conscience is clear, and the onus is squarely on publishers to give these guaranteed classics the time of day.

The Last Summer at Camp Gloom

The Summerween Trickster in Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls
Image: Disney Channel

Being British, our idea of an American-style summer camp comes mainly from films, and the one that sticks in our minds is Camp Chippewa from Addams Family Values! We also really enjoyed the atmosphere and “out and about in nature with a map” gameplay of Firewatch, and would love to make an outdoorsy game in a similar style, but with a bit more weighting toward puzzle/detective elements. And we also love the vibe, humor, and mystery of the TV show Gravity Falls.

So to sum up: Our ideal summer camp-themed game would combine the energy and detective mystery of Gravity Falls with the visuals and gameplay elements of Firewatch and have a dark-but-wholesome narrative inspired by the Addams Family! Let’s call it The Last Summer at Camp Gloom. —Bad Viking, developer of Strange Horticulture

Bloodborne x Summer Camp Island

A hunter faces a werewolf in a screenshot from Bloodborne
Image: FromSoftware/Sony Interactive Entertainment

What if Bloodborne met Summer Camp Island? Thousands of children will descend upon an isolated summer camp, with a colorful cast of “Camp Counselors,” “Forest Friends,” and “Bad Bullies.” You play as an unnamed, silent protagonist whose only special ability is to nod or shake their head. With your powers of communication you must unite the summer camp against the evil that lurks within the heart of “Wicked Woods.”

This is an always-online game, because a lot of the game will not make sense and you will have to rely upon “Fellow Campers” from “Other Timelines” to leave messages and items and the like. There is “The Lizard” in the game that will go “Buh.” I would like a significant amount of the budget to go into rendering “The Lizard.” If you connect a second controller, you can control “The Lizard.” ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PLEASE DO NOT STEAL. —William Pugh, founder of Crows Crows Crows, developer of The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe

Graffiti Evolution

Art from the Jackbox Party Pack 8 soundtrack
Jackbox Party Pack 8
Image: Jackbox Games

It’s very Jackbox-y, but I genuinely love summer camp graffiti. Sharpied on cabin walls, under bunks, carved into trees or gross latrine stalls. I envision a game where everyone is a 10-year-old and you draw and write graffiti about your fictional summer together. Five years later, you’re all 15. The drawing wall has aged, too. Some lines are still clear while others have faded or disappeared. You draw and write again about your teenage summer, reusing the remaining lines. Then you’re a 20-year-old camp counselor. Again, you draw on the partially faded wall. Maybe over the years “Brad loves hot dogs” becomes “Brad loves Jenny” which later becomes “Stacy loves Jenny.” Or you just draw dumb stuff and over time one drawing’s nose later becomes another drawing’s butt.

Later rounds could include drawing from the perspective of a wedding party that rented out the campground, middle-aged employees at a corporate retreat, woodland creatures, or a group of serial killers during the off season, to name a few. —Arnie Niekamp, studio editorial director at Jackbox Games, developer of The Jackbox Party Pack 8

Camp Earth

Enemies face the protagonist in Until You Fall
Until You Fall
Image: Schell Games

CAMP EARTH uses a next-generation mixed-reality headset. You put it on only to see a summer camp bus/spaceship land outside your home. Eager aliens from all over the galaxy are here because your home is going to be the headquarters for their summer camp. The game happens in real time as the aliens spend the next six weeks exploring your home as you guide them in activities of your choosing. Crafts, space s’mores, and interstellar romance abound. Help aliens to make friends and not completely destroy your home as you learn their surprising secrets, and maybe something about yourself. —Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, developer of I Expect You to Die 2

Camp Tyrannosaurus Teeth

A park develops in Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2
Image: Frontier Developments

From a Frontier perspective, it’d be particularly interesting (if a little dangerous!) to see what might unfold at a Jurassic World Evolution 2 summer camp! We even introduced a Camp Cretaceous Dinosaur Pack last year, so the Jurassic franchise has explored some camp-related hijinks before.

While the sights at a dino-themed summer camp would be amazing, with awe-inspiring dinosaurs, flying and marine reptiles, and beautiful sweeping landscapes, there’s always that added risk factor — who knows what could go wrong! From dino breakouts to weather calamities like hurricanes and even snowstorms, campgoers would have plenty to write home about during their visits. It would all be worth it to get up close to a Triceratops while traveling in a Gyrosphere, or to see the mighty Mosasaurus launch itself out of the lagoon waters during feeding time. We’d advise that all campers steer clear of the Tyrannosaurus rex enclosure, of course… —Rich Newbold, game director at Frontier Developments, developer of Jurassic World Evolution 2

Sleepaway FOMO

Yu and Kay alongside their same-gender counterparts in Haven.
Image: The Game Bakers

It’s summer and all your friends are going to different summer camps. All of them but you. You stay at home with your grandma, and you have nothing to do except take care of all of your friends’ homes: water the plants, feed the cats and dogs, sort the mail, etc. By doing that, you discover little things you didn’t know about them, and about their relationships with you... and you can prepare something for each of them that will surprise them when they get back (crafting minigame). Eventually, they come back and feel super touched. The game ends with a big party all your friends make for you for being such a nice friend. —Emeric Thoa, creative director at The Game Bakers, developer of Haven