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Game on for young carer who delayed university dreams to support his grandparents

Ethan Tucker

A college learner who has spent the last four years working towards his dream career while acting as the main carer for his grandparents is set to go to university after being nominated by his tutors for an award that will support him with his caring duties and enable him to follow his passions.

21-year-old Ethan Tucker, from Aberdare, has secured a place to study Game Art at the University of South Wales – one of the top universities in the country for animation and game degrees – after achieving a merit in his creative media diploma at Coleg y Cymoedd.

The aspiring game designer had previously thought that his grandparent’s reliance on him would mean that university would not be an option for him. However, after developing his skills and confidence in college, and with the supported of his tutors, he felt empowered to apply for a degree.

Seeing his determination to go to university, Ethan’s tutors successfully put him forward for a college award , which recognises the hard work of young adult carers in further education. Winning the award will see Ethan receive support from Rhondda Cynon Taf Young Adult Carers to care for his grandparents while he is at university and living in student accommodation.

Ethan, who has lived with his grandparents since he was two years old, became their primary carer when he was 18 after they began developing health issues. The change meant he had to balance full-time care responsibilities with his college studies, all during a worldwide pandemic.

Like many others, Ethan struggled with the national lockdowns and saw his mental health decline. Only leaving the house to pick up his grandparent’s medication, he felt uninspired about his future, believing university was out of reach and worrying about what he would do.

Turning to gaming as an escape from reality, it was here he discovered his true calling. Ethan said: “I found the lockdown really difficult. For me, gaming offered an outlet and escapism from everything that was going on in the world. While a lot of people switch off when they’re gaming, I found myself analysing the graphics and being fascinated by the storylines. I’ve always been captivated by a game’s design and character narratives, thinking about how they are all brought to life by producers, artists and developers.

“It made me realise that this was the path I wanted to follow but I didn’t know how I could make it happen. I never believed I was good enough and also worried about how I could possibly continue to support my grandparents.”

Ethan was nominated for the 2023 ‘There’s a story behind every card’ college award by his wellbeing officer, Laura Wilson. She said: “Ethan is the first young carer that I have known in 18 years to progress to university. His ambition and persistence continue to amaze me and I am in awe of his dedication. That’s why he deserves this award. All of us at Coleg y Cymoedd wish him every success at university.”

Ethan is now looking forward to starting his three-year game art university course in September. Offered in partnership with Epic Games and Unreal Engine, the degree at the University of South Wales’ state-of-the-art ATRiuM campus teaches students the skills they need to become a professional game artist, with many graduates going on to careers with renowned companies like Ubisoft and Rockstar Studios – the names behind popular games like Assassins Creed and the Grand Theft Auto series.

Following his degree, Ethan hopes to take become a video game artist at a top production company like Treyarch productions or the University of South Wales’ course partner, Epic Games.

Ethan believes going to university would not have been possible without the support he received from his college tutors and wellbeing officer. He said: “I was worried about moving away to university but now Rhondda Cynon Taf Young Adult Carers  have put great measures in place to make sure life goes unchanged for my grandparents and I can follow my academic dreams. This is all thanks to Laura who put me forward for the award.

“My tutors have not only made the practicalities of going to university possible, but they also inspired me to apply for a degree in the first place. They ignited a lot of confidence in me and getting stuck into all of the great activities and projects on my vocational course helped me recognise that I am capable and able, to go to university. I hope I make them proud.”