Game Programming for an Eight Year Old

By Forrest Smith -

My eight-year-old, probably like most boys his age, loves video games. It’s also natural I think for many who play, to want to make some games of their own. It would be great to get him started on coding at such an early age since he has the desire to do so. The only problem so far is finding some sort of a system that would help with this.

There are of course things like Mario Maker, which allow you to build mario-style 2d game levels, but it’s entirely a drag-and-drop interface, so it doesn’t really teach any programming, and you’re of course stuck the styles that they provide.

A while ago in my hunt for something that he could potentially pick up, I came across phaser, which is a javascript framework for creating games. We were able to create a simple game with this when I scanned in his artwork as game assets, but I still had to do the coding and I think we’re at least a couple years away from him being able to do the actual programming needed.

It was a simple game, but he got a kick out of it and was proud enough of it to show it off to some friends. Since then, I’ve been wanting to use phaser to create a system where he would utilize some simple code, which would be a layer I would write on top of phaser/javascript so he could type some simple commands to build his game. Perhaps there are non-code ways of doing some tasks, like for building platforms or enemies, but he could insert these blocks into his games with little snippets of code that I create, which would at least give him a bit of the flavor of actual programming.

I think a component of this would be that the actual javascript code would always be available so it could be modified beyond the “coding language” that I create, and as he gets older and more skilled, do more and more of the coding on his own to extend what’s possible with the platform.

Unfortunately the time I have to build something like this is pretty much nil — by the time I get around to it he’lll have already graduated with his computer science degree from some prestgeous university. But who knows, maybe I’ll be able to find some time one of these days…