Video Game Development for Kids

Chris O’Brien of Mercury News believes learning how to make video games in K-12 schools can be a real possibility. His nine-year-old son asked him one day if the two of them could make a game, and in his journey to answer his son’s question, O’Brien learned of a growing network of educators and researchers focused on teaching kids how to make games.

O’Brien discovered Alex Peake, the CEO and founder of Primer Labs, a startup that creates “endless learning games to make knowledge playable.” Peake created Code Hero: The Game That Teaches You To Make Games, which is designed to get non-programmers to get a basic feel for how to break into coding. The game is a cooperative first-person shooter where the player’s weapon is a ray of Javascript code.

As Peake describes it:

“It’s a new type of learning; players start out using powerful code without needing to understand it, then slowly master that code to conquer specific challenges. It’s a game you can play without programming experience where learning happens naturally and the moment when you start coding is the beginning of a new world of possibilities.”

O’Brien’s research also led him to Jonathan Chung, a game designer who wanted to build an engine specifically designed for initiates to game creation.

Let’s define something first for the non-gamers out there: Every video game released today uses what is referred to as an engine. The engine is what powers the game’s graphics, enabling you to view it on an iPad, a computer monitor, a television, etc. Think of a video game’s engine like the words in a book: An author uses words make a story readable and a designer uses an engine to make a game playable.

Chung’s engine is called Stencyl, which allows users to create games using a series of blocks that stack to create various behaviors. O’Brien writes, “I’ve tried Stencyl, and it’s not easy. But there are tutorials and, with a little time, you can grasp the basics. And because it works by dragging around colorful blocks rather than staring at infinite lines of code, it makes Stencyl feel less intimidating.”

Jonathan Chung’s Stencyl

While Chung and Peake are making progress developing learning platforms for kids, the undisputed leader is Matthiew Finick’s Roblox, which is software that helps create models of real-world physical interactions. If any of our readers are into gaming, they might remember gaming company Valve’s Source engine which emerged as one of the first game engines to simulate actual physics, enabling the player to manipulate an environment that adheres to rules like weight, buoyancy, elasticity and pretty much any other physical element you can think of. (Such readers may also be interested in viewing an earlier Technapex article on Valve’s educational endeavors.)

Using a point-and-click interface, Roblox users can drag around objects to create their games, or spend their time in the growing community of user-created content. In 2011, there were 5.4 million games created on Roblox.

Video game development may seem like a lofty goal, even for college graduates and working professionals. But there are options for even young kids who are interested in learning more about the field. As games continues to influence how kids learn and how people absorb media, it suddenly looks like there’s no minimum age a kid has to be to start learning how to make one.

  • MicroSourcing

    It’s great that people are developing engines that encourage kids and others who are interested to try out game development. K-12 schools are a good place to start introducing kids to the discipline.