A screenshots from the Summerland video game trailer, created by Connor Rush, computer science student at West Virginia University. (Submitted Photo)

WVU student develops video game that leaves players questioning their mortality and the afterlife

No one knows what happens after death, but a student at West Virginia University has created a video game that considers what uncertainties could lie ahead.

Conner Rush, a freshman computer science major in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, developed Summerland, a first-person narrative game about morality and the afterlife. The user takes control of the character, Matthew, a detective reliving the events of his past to understand what happened to him.

“The idea for Summerland came from a very strong existential fear of death,” Rush said. “Death comes with a lot of unknowables and uncertainties, and that’s something that’s always terrified me. I began structuring the universe of Summerland around compartmentalizing those unknowables into a more digestible fictional space.”

Rush wrote Summerland’s world with inspiration from several different ideologies regarding the afterlife and themes of ethical philosophy.

“The player is questioned about their moral stances throughout the game,” Rush said. “I want the player to leave the game questioning their morality, not exactly in terms of ‘What’s right and wrong?’ and more along the lines of ’Why are these things right or wrong?’”

Rush first started working on Summerland while still a high school student in Fairmont. Through this journey, Rush was able to connect with professionals in the gaming industry. Major gaming companies that were in support of his game such as Steelseries held public auditions for the voice actors in the game.

“The most notable collaborations are that of the voice actors,” Rush said. “I held public auditions and had an overwhelming amount of entries, over 4,500 total. I had a lot of very experienced talent show interest in the game — people who have done voice work in Skyrim, Marvel properties, etc. In the end though, I chose a cast I think fits the game perfectly.”

In the end, Rush casted Ryan Beard, Rhys David and Natalie Van Sistine as the voice actors. Matthew, played by Rhys David, is followed by Evelyn, voiced by Natalie Van Sistine. Evelyn follows Matthew around on ride-alongs and to crime scenes, so she can become a detective as well.

The game was developed through FYRE Games, Fairmont Youths Reinventing Entertainment. Rush created FYRE Games when he was only 12 years old. FYRE Games became legally recognized as an LLC in the United States this year.

Summerland will be released on Wednesday, Dec. 2 on Mac and PC and can be downloaded for free on Stream and itch.io. View Summerland’s trailer.

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