What kid today doesn’t want to play video games for a living? Being a game designer or programmer is not quite as glorious and carefree as most kids imagine. However, an interest in games and programming can lead to learning many useful skills no matter what they end up doing later in life.
Learning to design, build, and program games teaches:
- math and logic concepts
- computer, technology, and software proficiency
- elements of philosophy, sociology, game theory, and artistic design
- graphics, animation, video, audio, and presentation
This list has something for everyone – no matter what experience they have with games and computer programming.
This post contains affiliate links. I have looked over each of these links for content, but I can not read every web page or see every advertisement. Please preview these resources and determine if they are a fit for your family. It would also be a good idea to talk to your kids about being aware and making smart decisions online. To get started, read why we should teach kids to be their own internet filters. A great place to start exploring with your kids is Commonsense Media’s Digital Literacy & Citizenship Classroom Curriculum.
Software and Game Design Tools
These tools will get your kids started creating games, game elements, and coming up with design ideas.
1. Gamestar Mechanic – first quest, community, and design tools are free, option to pay for more features.
Gamestar Mechanic offers not only a fun way to learn how to create games, it has a community where you can share, collaborate, and get feedback.
Completely free software for kids ages 8-18 that you can use to program your own interactive stories and games.
Another free software, this one creates 3D animations.
4. Code Academy
A very simple, interactive way to learn how to code – for free!
5. Code Monkey – access to all challenges for 12 months is $29
You can play the basic games on the site for free. Kids help monkeys catch bananas, and learn how to code along the way.
6. Programming for Kids – How to make coding fun $9
This is a short course designed to introduce kids and educators to computer programming.
From the site:
In this jam-packed 1 hour course, we focus on the tools, techniques and ideas you can use to inspire fun and creativity in programming.
A free software that streamlines game design and programming. I haven’t played around with this one but it looks pretty cool.
8. Game Salad
Create games for iOS, Android, and HTML5 without coding! This program offers drag and drop features which kids could use to play around with game design. Free basic software.
Unity is a fancy game engine that allows users to create 2D and 3D game elements and games. Free basic software.
Another free game creation software!
Create your own role-playing games complete with maps, characters, and more. Free basic software.
An open-source library to make simple flash games.
13. Kids Ruby
This site teaches kids how to install and work with the Ruby programming language. Screencasts walk kids through programming a simple computer game.
ARIS is a user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games,
tours and interactive stories.
Interactive tutorials for people of all ages. Learn code alongside famous characters (Disney’s Frozen, Angry Birds, etc.). Free!
16. Adventure Maker
Create point and click games for mobile devices.
This site is a little different. It allows you to make text-based games and interactive fiction. No graphics, just text. This would be a great way to introduce game design and narrative to kids.
18. Movie Sandbox
Very interesting open-source program that allows users to simply sketch something onto the screen and create a 3D animation from that sketch.
Very cool drag and drop game creator. Uses Scratch-based coding so being familiar with it would be helpful.
Free software for creating 3D models, animations, and much more.
21. Corona SDK Free
Free basic 2D game developer software.
Another drag and drop game creator, this one allows you to build scientific simulations as well!
23. Construct 2
Free basic software – create 2D games in HTML5 with little coding!
Another free game maker – this one is browser-based so you don’t have to download anything! Site does require you to register a login.
Another text-based game creator. Make interactive fiction and text adventures.
Games in ADRIFT are created by adding locations, objects, characters and tasks. These can be organised into folders, allowing you to group things together in a logical manner.
26. Craft Studio
Collaborate with others to make cool games!
Create simple games right in your browser. No downloads required!
Create visual novels. Great for beginners and more advanced programmers can use Python for in-depth game design.
This is a pdf file that goes through the steps of coming up with a design for a game. Make a mini-book for each game idea your kids have!
Solve puzzles using programming logic – great for beginners!
Learn to code before you can read! Free ipod app that teaches kids coding logic through a fun game.
32. Code Combat
An adventure style game that teaches you to code during play.
The History of Video Games and Game Theory
To create good games, it is important to know the basics of game theory and history. Know where video and computer games got their start, the major players in the industry, and what has affected the video game market over the years. You also need to understand what a video game is – in terms of how scientists and sociologists view them.
These are lessons disguised as games – each episode is a separate platform. Go through them all to understand how games are designed and built.
37. History of Video Games (YouTube)
A history of video games from PBS.
An interesting timeline of how science fiction, fantasy, games, and the internet came together over the years.
40. Raph Koster’s website
Lots of advice, tips, and resources from a game developer.
If you want to design games, you should start designing games. You can design games with a deck of cards. With index cards. And a pen, don’t forget a pen. You can do it with some poker chips, with some Lego bricks, with an old chess board. Your first lesson is “games are not their graphics.” Or their framerate. They are their rules. You can start making games with whatever you have to hand.
Learning programming is just going to give you a nicer set of index cards and blocks and chips and boards. It will let you use virtual stuff instead of real stuff. But the lessons you learn will work either way. –Raph Koster
42. The Game Console
Learn about every video game console ever made!
Browse the games of yesteryear. Learn about their design, and get some ideas for your own games.
Want to watch some documentaries about various video games? This is your list! Organized by games, systems, historical timeframe, and more!
45. GET LAMP: The Text Adventure Documentary
The story of a story. Why were text-based games so popular? What did they lead to? This is a fun documentary about a part of game history most forget!
My kids have been begging to watch this! The official Minecraft documentary – learn how a simple game from an indie developer became the greatest hit of our time – and perhaps of all time. $8 for the regular, family-friendly version.
In 2009, independent video game designer Markus “Notch” Persson released a work in progress that would go on to break every industry rule for achieving success. Part exploratory adventure, part creative building tool, Minecraft evolved from a cult classic into an unprecedented hit, raking daily sales in by the thousands.
Courses, Lectures, and Tutorials
Tutorials on how to use GameMaker (see link above) from a developer and educator. Great free resource!
48. Tynker courses
Self-paced online courses for kids. Each course is $50 and kids create a lot of great content through interactive play and puzzles.
50-51. Freshi Learning Online courses
You can read our review of Freshi here. Very nice video-based courses that teach a number of digital skills. $99 for a year’s access.
Java, Windows, Game programming, and more. Courses are done with a manual and optional cd. You can read our review of Homeschool Programming here. Most courses run about $70-85 a semester.
We haven’t tried these courses but they look very professional. They have a nice Minecraft Mod Design course. Most courses are $249 and are good for 1 year with support.
Free Coursera Courses
You can’t go wrong with free – and Coursera provides quality material that is delivered through video and text. Most courses are aimed at college level but anyone can join and watch.
- 54. Beginning Game Programming with C#
- 55. Learn to Program: The Fundamentals
- 56. Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative
- 57. Understanding Video Games – this is an amazing course. We have been watching it as a family. It ends soon but I highly recommend watching for the next registration date.
This is the definitive tutorial site for learning how to program with Unity (see link for software above).
A free, simple course at Udemy in making your first game in Corona (software link above).
This course at Udemy costs $9 and will walk you through creating a game in Scratch.
This website has many articles with advice and resources, all about making video games!
62. Invent with Python – 3 free ebooks to download
Three free ebooks – read online or download pdf files.
A very simple article that explains what the Python computer language is and how you can get started programming with it.
64. Free training courses from 3D Buzz
Tutorials for working with various programming languages and software. Not all of them are free but many are.
65. Free computer programming ebooks
A nice selection of free ebooks on web design and programming languages.
Did you hear a word in your game design course or in a book and didn’t quite understand what it meant? Use this game glossary guide to figure out what it meant and to up your knowledge on game design terms!
What makes a game fun? Are there elements to every game that make it better to play? Do limits and rules ruin the fun of a game? This short article attempts to shed light on the debate.
Free course at Udemy. Learn how to make a game with HTML5 and Quintus, as well as how to publish games to the Amazon App store!
This course on edX is currently running. It is free and would be worth checking out future registration dates.
This course is archived, but you can still register for free and work through it in a self-paced manner.
The second portion of the course at edX.
72. Programming for kids at Happy Nerds
This site is a collection of resources for educators and parents. Lots of suggestions for software, programming languages to introduce, and books for your gamer/programmer enthusiasts.
Children today are surrounded by software from their game consoles, over their music players to their mobile phones. By teaching them how to program, we can show them how to become an active and defining part of this new world we live in.
73. Game Dev badge at DIY
If you haven’t checked out DIY.org yet, you are missing a great motivator and resource! Kids can join, download the app, and complete challenges to earn skill badges. You can also complete challenges by uploading from a computer browser. Each challenge has examples and links to get kids started, and every challenge is reviewed by a DIY mentor to make sure it meets the requirements. It’s like scouts for the technology age!
The game developer badge has kids making a 2D game, creating a sprite sheet, editing textures, and making a 3D game in Unity.
74. nOOb badge at DIY
The nOOb badge helps kids become familiar with programming logic, languages, and software by remixing games, writing instructions for a robot, and creating simple game mechanics in Scratch.
This tutorial walks you through downloading ScriptCraft and editing “mods” in Minecraft. Great way to use a game that kids already enjoy to enhance and enlarge their programming skills!
Clubs, Career Information, and Advice
76. Coder Dojo
Coder Dojo is a programming community for kids. Find a dojo near you, or create your own dojo and plan a meet-up with other kids that share your passions. It’s like a computer club with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of peer mentoring.
A nice article that gives beginners a frame of reference for getting started in computer programming. It’s not important what language you pick to start on, but programming can be frustrating and lonely so find a buddy to share the journey!
When kids say they want to be a game designer when they grow up, what exactly do they mean? This article can help them narrow down the areas in which they are most interested.
The mother of game design websites. You can find articles, advice, job ads, career guides, and so much more for every aspect of game development, design, and coding.
Step-by-step guide to how you come up with an idea for a game and see it through to creation, play testing, and feedback.
Attending a conference for game developers would be a huge step in learning exactly what the career entails and meeting people working in the business.
A giant site of questions and answers – this game developer takes the time to explain how you can build a portfolio, what different jobs entail, the process of submitting a game, choosing a college, and so much more!
Books about programming and game design on Amazon
84. Python for Kids
Highly recommended by several game developers – this is a college-level text so it would be appropriate for older kids.
When you are serious about creating and marketing games.
88. Start a Career in Game Design (Lazy Designer series book 1)
This series by veteran game designer Brent Knowles talks about his experience finding a job in game design, some of the struggles he encountered, and advice for those wanting to get into a career.
89. How to Make the Next Game (book 2)
90. How to Design Gameplay and Exploration (book 3)
91. How to Design Story and Build Worlds (book 4)
I hope this gives you an idea of all the great content that is out there (most of it free) for kids to get a start on understanding video games, design, development, programming languages, and more!
The iHomeschool Network bloggers are giving you their best lists of 100 homeschool-related things! Check out all the great posts and find more resources and ideas for your educational journey.