When Josiah Broughton was looking at colleges, he wanted a school that checked three important boxes: a degree in game design, a fencing coach that he had trained with, and a vibrant city culture.
But his dad, a big Fighting Irish football fan, urged Broughton to explore what Notre Dame had to offer. He asked his son to accept an invitation to visit South Bend. For him.
Broughton did — and the visit changed everything.
What hooked him? For starters, there was Notre Dame’s core values, stunning architecture, “palpable” student culture, and high-quality fencing facilities.
Four years later, his academic and athletic experiences have offered him so much more — in expected and unexpected ways.
“I've grown more in my time at Notre Dame than anywhere else,” he said. “It's been a challenging experience, but an unforgettably important one.”
“I've grown more in my time at Notre Dame than anywhere else. It's been a challenging experience, but an unforgettably important one.”
‘The door flew open’
Growing up in the Germantown neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia, Broughton loved playing video games, including BioShock, Kingdom Hearts II and Treasure Planet. As a youth, he thought of game design as a dream job, but perhaps an improbable one.
“Then in high school, I realized it was not impossible, and I set my eyes on it,” he said.
Broughton initially majored in computer science, but the courses didn’t align with his interests or strengths.
With the support of his parents, Broughton stepped back, re-evaluated, and chose to take a more creative route — FTT. The classes, he said, are fascinating and fun and offer a more comprehensive perspective on the concepts involved in video game design, from story and structure to character and graphics.
Broughton’s dream of being a game designer is a lot closer to reality now thanks to coursework on 3D digital production for animation and video games, creating film as social action, elements of computing, and scriptwriting.
“FTT is hands-on. I’ve learned about movies, film, editing, sound, cameras — the door flew open,” he said. “The ability to create and tell stories is valuable. The skills transfer really, really well to game design.”
He’s also gained valuable insight and perspective into the gaming industry, thanks to faculty who are immersed in that world, including Jeff Spoonhower, an assistant professor of film and digital media production and co-founder of the game studio Resonator Interactive.
Last year, over the course of three weeks, Broughton was engrossed in creating a digitally animated, 8-second scene featuring a toy Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots match for a final project. He built and rigged digital models for the robots, then staged their movements, slowly refining and polishing the animation over time.
“I’m proud of how it turned out. My parents were blown away,” he said. “It excites me. I just completely immerse myself in it. I could do this for hours. When I think of this being a career — wow!”
‘Failing is a part of the process’
Broughton credits his mom for his solid academic foundation. She homeschooled him, as well as his two sisters, from first through fourth grades.
He took piano lessons and played a number of sports; soccer was a favorite. When his mom saw an online advertisement for fencing, he took it up as a way to stay active during soccer’s offseason. He felt an instantaneous connection with the sport that’s described as physical chess.
“I loved it immediately,” he said. “It clicked with me.”
Soon Broughton was excelling, and fencing became a priority. Because of the demands of training — including weekday 90-minute one-way train rides to practice with soon-to-be Olympians in New York City — Broughton’s mom also homeschooled him during high school.
“She did an impeccable job,” he said. “She’s the reason I’m here.”
In 2020, as a sophomore, Broughton won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in men’s epee (the largest and heaviest of the three fencing swords). He was chosen as the team’s Monogram Club MVP and won awards for prevailing in the face of adversity and for selflessly helping teammates prepare while pursuing his own passion for the sport.
That extraordinarily successful season — during which he also made the ACC Academic Honor Roll — was his last as a competitive fencer.
“Fencing is a really large part of who I am today. It shaped my character, discipline and work ethic. It taught me that failing is a part of the process — a necessary part,” Broughton said.
“But fencing is very time-consuming and I wanted to focus on academics. The ACC win was my first big win after working so hard for so long. It was the perfect way to close the door.”
“I love the creative process and having full authorship. The ability to create and tell stories is priceless.”
‘A taste of everything’
Because of that decision, Broughton has had more time to hone his talents producing computer animated shorts, music videos, and graphic design projects.
He’s also directed short digital productions, including a 6-minute film, “Game Night,” that co-stars his sister, Avery, now a sophomore sociology major.
Broughton also has worked with MOGL — a minority-founded and impact-focused tech startup designed to empower NCAA athletes and the local community in the name, image, and likeness (NIL) era — to create advertising for its launch and improve its website design.
That opportunity arose through the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development, which connected Broughton with Notre Dame alumni who worked for MOGL. During his internship, he worked on graphic design, video editing, and website projects, gaining lots of hands-on experience where he was given significant creative authority.
“I got to learn about working with a team, iterating creative projects, and working with deadlines,” he said. “These are all really crucial skills for pretty much any entertainment industry's production pipeline.”
After commencement this spring, Broughton will continue to play challenging, immersive, and inclusive video games, build his portfolio, and eventually relocate to California or New York, where lots of gaming industry jobs are based.
“I’ve gotten a taste of everything,” he said. “I love the creative process and having full authorship. The ability to create and tell stories is priceless.”