Help kids learn to make their own video games and level up their coding skills
It’s no secret that many parents are concerned that their kids are spending too much time playing video games. After all, with budding gamers spending up to 3 hours a day playing games that is a lot of screen time to be worried about.
But what if you could turn your child’s love of video games into something that can help them develop critically important skills for both school and life?
As coding becomes an increasingly popular and important subject for kids, developing their sequential and computational thinking, as well as providing them with valuable skills for the future, video game design and development can be an excellent way to connect it to a hobby kids love.
Video game design can provide a more enticing lead-in to programming, particularly for kids who aren’t overly interested in creating their own apps and software projects, and help turn kids from passive consumers of video game technology into active creators of it.
If you think your kids might be interested in coding their own video games, here’s a quick introduction that can help you get started.
Why Consider Video Game Design for Your Kids?
Despite its importance, not every child is intrinsically motivated to learn to code.
Some may see it as boring or academic, preferring to spend their time doing practically anything other than sitting in front of a computer entering code, while others may be intimidated by what they see as a very precise, math and STEM oriented activity.
Still others might see coding as an abstract thing that adults do that is hard to connect to their day to day lives.
Most kids, on the other hand, do play and enjoy video games and can readily understand how it can connect to their lives. Further, they may already have their own ideas of what a fun game might be and may enjoy the challenge of creating their very own if given the opportunity.
Some may even dream of a career as a videogame designer.
By framing learning to code as learning to create their very own video games, video game design can act as a more enticing way to get kids interested and wanting to code.
Video Game Design For Kids: Educational Benefits
As with regular coding, creating and coding video games can offer a number of valuable educational benefits to kids, letting them develop knowledge and skills that can help them succeed in school and later in life.
Storytelling, Creative Writing and Sequential Thinking
Designing a video game can be a surprisingly creative process.
At the end of the day, designing a game is very much about bringing stories to life. It can be a more artistic and creative application of coding as even the most basic, straightforward game has to have some kind of back story and rules associated with it, as well as a visual feel to it.
To successfully create a game, kids will have to:
- Come up with an appealing idea
- Develop a plot or story
- Develop gameplay ideas and rules
- Develop characters and items
- Develop their own maps and gameplay scenarios
- Create a way to win/lose the game
Also because games tend to need to follow a sequential series of events:
Situation => user action => resolution
A good deal of planning and thought needs to go into a game’s creation so that it makes some kind of logical sense.
In other words, kids have to learn to plan things out and storyboard them ahead of time, taking into consideration the rules, gameplay and end result they want to achieve, which ultimately helps develop those very important planning and sequential thinking skills.
In order to build out their games, kids will also have to learn to code in one (or more) programming languages.
These can range from visual block coding, like Scratch, to traditional, written language, like Python and Java and beyond.
Perhaps as importantly, in order to make things work as they should, students will also need to develop a firm grasp of the logic behind the programming, learning important concept such as objects, functions, variables, conditionals, loops, and logic gates, as well as learning game-specific coding knowledge such as game physics, data storage and retrieval and collision detection.
All of these are critical and widely used in subjects and fields, such as software engineering, computer engineering, computer science, mathematics and more.
What coding languages are usually involved in game design for kids?
Generally speaking there is no one language that defines video game design, especially for kids.
As long as computers and programming have been around, people have been making games for them in their spare time.
That said, courses that introduce kids to game design often use languages such as:
- Scratch (a visual coding language to help kids learn the fundamentals of coding)
- And Java
All of these languages are widely used in the real world and so the skills and knowledge that kids learn are easily transferable to non-video game coding activities, such as web development, mobile apps, business software, and more.
Generally speaking, younger kids with no background in coding tend to start out with visual coding, where they don’t have to worry about typing and syntax and can move code snippets around with their mouse.
That said, there are plenty of coding courses out there for kids that dive right into written code, with no expectations of previous coding knowledge, so the choice is really up to the parent and their students’ needs, preferences and abilities.
Finding a kids coding course that offers game design
As parents continue to recognize the value of coding as part of their children’s education, quite a few coding courses for kids have sprung up on the market.
While many of these make ready use of games in their curricula to teach coding, with kids entering code to move characters around and have them interact with their environment, there aren’t quite as many programs out there that specifically create programs that both teach kids to code and allow them to build their very own video games, i.e. have game design courses.
There are a few reasons for this, two major ones being:
- Coding for kids is already a specialized educational course, and with many parents are content enough with their kids learning the fundamental skills of coding (and their kids are happy enough to take the courses), there is not as much incentive to offer game design on top of the basics
- It’s hard to create a program that can take kids of various ages through all the various components of making a video game while teaching also them the essential coding skills they’ll need to create one
As it’s a little harder to find good game development coding courses for kids, below we’ve included some of our recommendations on coding courses that we feel can be good choices for parents and kids alike.
Dedicated and in-depth coding and video game design courses
On top of all that, kids also learn game design-specific coding concepts, such as collision detection and handling, enemy AI scripting, game physics, pathing and more
If that’s not enough, Codakid also offers specialized courses in Minecraft and Roblox coding as well.
Codakid’s game programming courses are largely centered around self-directed learning.
Teaching is done through video, with high-energy, and enthusiastic instructors who take students through the coding process on-screen and in real time.
Kids can then pause the video and try things out and there are periodic quizzes and challenges to assess and reinforce learning, as you might expect.
If kids run into trouble, they can open up a chat and receive support and focused help from one of Codakid’s instructors.
Codakid’s only real downside is its limited support for mobile devices – Codakid mainly runs on PCs and Macs, which can restrict learning on the go
Overall, however, Codakid’s teaching method is very high quality, rigorous in scope and is particularly good at simplifying sometimes demanding concepts while keeping kids entertained.
If your child learns well under a self-directed learning method, Codakid’s in-depth courses should get your kids coding their own games quickly and effectively.
For more information, read our more in-depth review of Codakid.
Great variety of video game courses with a fun community feel
Tynker is known for the number and variety of its coding courses, with dozens of courses across a number of age ranges and covering a variety of coding interests, from AR and robotics to Minecraft and multiplayer games.
Game design is an option that kids can select from their Tynker dashboard to quickly find quite a few courses (across a number of age ranges) that center around making, and then playing, some kind of video game.
And these games do cover a wider variety of interests than other courses out there – there are RPGs, runners, arcade-style games, physics games, platformers and more.
While you won’t find sophisticated 3D battle-royale style games with Tynker – the games and courses tend towards creating more simple, 2D mobile-style games in visual coding, there is certainly enough action and fun to be had to get kids started and keep them interested.
There is also an activity/leader board and the ability to play and share games (in a safe, moderated way) with the Tynker community, so kids can show off their work and play those of other users, which should serve to keep kids interested and coding for longer.
In terms of learning, while the games may not be all that sophisticated, the learning certainly is.
Each game consists of dozens of programming activities, where kids learn core coding concepts such as variables, functions, conditional logic, loops and data structures, as well as game design-specific concepts such as collision detection, sensing events, game physics and more.
Tynker also makes it easy for kids to get hands-on experience in customizing their games, using in-built tools to help them create their own animations and cutscenes, set win/loss scenarios, score their own MIDI music, create their own sprites and more.
Learning with Tynker is also largely self-paced, using a combination of videos, coding activities, and regular skill assessments and quizzes.
Tynker’s learning is gamified, with kids being able to win badges and awards, as well as being able to compete in contests and competitions on their platform.
Overall, while the games are not as sophisticated or complex as those created in other coding courses, Tynker does offer kids a solid education experience with far more varied game styles and a greater opportunity to really style games the way kids want them.
For more information, you can read our in-depth review of Tynker.
Small classrooms, deep learning and cutting edge projects
If your student learns better in an instructor-led small classroom and wants to develop their coding skills beyond what most courses can offer, CodeWizardsHQ might be the solution you’re looking for.
Because these are actual, live classes, CodeWizardsHQ divides its courses by general school level – elementary, middle and high school.
Elementary school classes are aimed at kids in grades 3-5 and generally cover Scratch and fundamental coding concepts, while older grades move on to Python, JS and HTML/CSS.
Each of these classes (Elementary, Middle and High School) is then divided into a couple Levels.
Each level ends in a capstone project, where kids put their new knowledge and skills to the test by building and coding an actual, full program themselves.
Most of these capstone projects (although not all) involve game development, and fairly sophisticated game development at that.
CodeWizardsHQ tends to cover coding in more depth and thoroughness than other courses, and the game projects tend to reflect that.
Students create their own virtual reality games, use server-side tools to create their own multiplayer games and even a 3D VR multiplayer game.
Not only do kids learn a lot from CodeWizardsHQ, they do so in a way that reflects real world application of some pretty cutting edge concepts. Kids don’t just learn syntax, variables and functions, they’ll learn about things like database creation, interface development, APIs, machine learning, algorithms, MVC frameworks and more.
At $149 per student per course, CodeWizardsHQ is somewhat more expensive than other options out there (although they do have some special deals for homeschoolers and microschoolers). That said, you really feel like the projects kids make and the learning they accomplish can be put on their CVs or directly included in applications to college.
For more information, you can read our in-depth review of CodeWizqardsHQ
Test the waters with these affordable virtual courses in coding and video game design for kids
If you like the idea of your kids taking virtual courses from professionals and experts in game development, either live or in recorded format, you might want to consider Outschool.
A marketplace for online courses aimed exclusively at K-12 kids, Outschool offers probably the widest variety of game design courses out there for kids.
Simply use Outschool’s internal filtering and search system and within seconds you can find any number of classes related to video game design and development, each complete with course descriptions, stated learning goals, a description of the teacher’s expertise, estimated time commitment, assignment quantity and more – all to help you choose a course that’s right for your child.
While it can vary, most of these courses are taught by screened professionals in their fields (some are taught by screened hobbyists or tutors – so make sure you read that course description) and offer a great deal of flexibility for parents.
Outschool offers both live and recorded classes, you can tailor your options and class recommendations easily around your schedule and needs.
Live classes teach small classes (capped at 18) through Zoom, and both live and recorded classes offer homework and assignments to keep kids working, as well as a moderated internal forum to allow students to collaborate and discuss ideas.
It is also one of the most affordable options out there. With lessons costing as little as $5 each, parents who are not sure how long their kids will stay interested in video game design and coding may be particularly interested in Outschool.
Overall, although a little bit scattergun in teacher quality and course coverage, Outschool can offer parents and kids who may be interested in video game design the widest variety of class options and scheduling flexibility out there, at an affordable price, and we think it is an excellent option for those looking to test the waters of game design with their kids.
For more information, check out our in-depth review of Outschool
Learning to code is undoubtedly an important part of any child’s education in the 21st century.
Getting kids interested in sitting down and programming is another story, however.
Coding courses for kids that offer video game design can take advantage of kids love of video games to get them more interested in learning to code, allowing their creativity and passion for storytelling to flow while building solid programming skills and an understanding of technology that will help them in their future.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.