AUSTIN, Texas — Growing up, Sam Gonzalez’s three favorite things were sports, fitness, and video games, but he got a lot of slack for his gamer habits.
What You Need To Know
- HYBRID ATX is a gamer camp for kids
- Aims to change negative stereotypes around gaming
- In-person camps in jeopardy due to COVID-19
“It always bothered me that there was this negativity attached to something I had a strong passion for,” Gonzalez said.
So it was natural for him to ask himself what he could do to change the negative stereotypes surrounding gamers. The Navy veteran found the answers to his question in HYBRID ATX.
“We are going to lead by example to show that just because you play video games doesn’t mean you’re rotting your brain and you’re gonna die fat and lonely,” Gonzalez said.
The 28-year-old started the company to do just that. He says an initial in-person camp at an Austin gaming center was successful, which pushed him to offer more. While in-person camps are in jeopardy due to the rise in COVID-19 cases across the state, Gonzalez has been perfecting week-long virtual camps.
Every day is different but usually consists of some physical warming up by teaching a routine of stretches or exercises. Then camp counselors team up with the gamers online, giving them a positive online experience in a controlled environment.
“There’s a lot of online toxicity, raging and really unhealthy behavior that happens,” Gonzalez said. “So we are looking at how to teach them one, not to contribute to that, and two, remove them from that when they see it.”
Over the course of a week the camp also focuses on educating kids on nutrition, physical, emotional and social wellness, creative expression, the history and evolution of gaming and career opportunities. The camp also has gamers try new games they have never played before to introduce them to other genres they wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
Hazel and Roman Perez are siblings who have both participated in a camp with HYBRID ATX. The new habits they’ve learned have translated over to their gameplay.
“My gameplay is noticeably better than it’s been in months,” Hazel said.
While HYBRID ATX does offer education on the esports industry as well, it’s not entirely focused on the competitive side of gaming. Gonzalez tries to balance classes accordingly to gamers who are more into the social side of gaming as well. Of course, the hardest demographic to reach may be parents. Gonzalez acknowledges that at first glance, a parent may question why they would pay to send their child to play video games.
“There’s a few ways to look at this. You could let your kid play in the backyard and throw a football. Maybe they have a few friends in the neighborhood who play football with them. Or you can send them to camp where they learn from a coach and socialize with people they may have not otherwise met,” he said.
Gonzalez also points to the wide-ranging corners of the internet where a child may wander without guidance.
“To send them out into the world totally unsupervised, you have no idea and no control over who they’re talking to, what they’re saying, what they’re learning, or who is communicating with them,” Gonzalez said.
The lifelong gamer is waiting to receive his kinesiology degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Gonzalez has to finish one elective class before he can technically graduate with his bachelor of science degree. He is also a certified physical education teacher.
Camp counselors all undergo background checks and if parents are still unsure, HYBRID ATX offers a free orientation week for new students. A $20 registration fee is required, however.
“They (parents) get a look inside at how this might benefit a child instead of immediately thinking this is a poison for my child’s mind,” Gonzalez said.