Introducing Students to Game Development

July 14th, 2014

I was recently asked to provide insight into how young students might easily be able to learn how to make video games. While I’m not a teacher, I’m happy to provide what insight I can based on my personal experience in discovering the process. Ultimately, learning how to make video games boils down to exploring the principles of design, development, and problem solving.

The root of game design and development is about creating a fun play experience. One way for youth (or anyone, really) to start exploring game design is to begin by creating a board game, a card game, or some other physical game (i.e., Musical Chairs, Tag, Mother May I, etc.). This allows the student to play with core concepts of designing gameplay without the daunting overhead of understanding how to code. This activity should help the student understand fundamental elements of designing a good game: giving players a clear goal, a means to achieve their goal, a reward for their achievements during gameplay, and perhaps most importantly, a means to have fun.

Progressing beyond the core principles of game design and into digital game development, students can explore basic software programs like Scratch or Gamesalad. Both programs are created as a way for those interested in making games to make game development accessible as a non-coder. In using these programs, the aspiring developer is able to learn some of the fundamental principles of programming without ever having to learn “code,” per se. The code elements are handled within a drag-and-drop visual interface that provides essential development tools but minimizes the risk of mistakes. Scratch is more ideal for the very young, where Gamesalad is great for hobbyists who may eventually want the ability to publish and distribute their game.

Learning new tools can be difficult, but there are a number of supportive communities both online and off that can be great resources as a student learns. Scratch and Gamesalad both have forums for bouncing questions and problems off of other experienced users of the software. A lot of cities have meetup groups and other communities for aspiring game developers, where enthusiasts can get together and learn from one another. Classroom settings like those of St. Louis’ Youth Learning Center allow for collaboration, paired programming, and group problem solving. Do a bit of research and find out what’s available in your area.

Hopefully this quick overview can help some new students get on the right track. Good luck!

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