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Teaching Kids to Make Video Games

While the never ending debate on the impact of playing video games continues to capture the interest of the mainstream media, I choose to examine a different and perhaps more constructive question. What if we teach kids to make video games.

Why teach kids to make video games you ask?

We’ll there are many reasons but let’s start with some of the most important ones.

If you’ve been following global trends, pretty much every country on earth has realized that the future prosperity of their country will depend on their ability to harness and innovate with science and technology. Despite a stream of media stories about companies like Facebook, Twitter and countless other high tech success stories, the enrolment in programs related to science and technology, especially information technologies has actually been stalling out and in some countries it’s actually declining including the US. So with our future prosperity so heavily dependent on people with skills in science and technology, we have an increasing number of people turning away from this type of training and these types of careers. In order to cope, many countries have resorted to importing skilled workers from other counties, not because they want to, but because they have no other choice.

So why aren’t more young people pursuing careers in science and technology? We’ll once again, there are many reasons, but perhaps one the most relevant is that they don’t see the relevance of these topics to their life and the real world. Many students go through school learning to hate science, math and computers and so by the time they hit college, if they even get the far, the last thing that want to do is pursue studies in these areas. We don’t like to do things we aren’t good at, or that we constantly seem to fail at, so eventually we just give up.

While there is not silver bullet that will fix this problem, I am willing to offer up some things I think are worth considering and worth trying.

We need to find ways to heavily engage and captivate students with just how cool and relevant science, technology and math can really be. I think the biggest thing that gets missed in traditional education is real world context. Without pinning information and ideas to real world examples and making it relevant to our students real lives, it just doesn’t stick.

Also, todays students don’t want to be a passive participants, they want to actively participate and  have more control over their learning.

So, now let’s take these ideas and run with them. Why teach kids to make video games?

First off, show me something other that video games that has the power to capture and hold the attention of young people. No coercion needed, they are drawn to games like a moth to a flame. Remember, we are not arguing this is good or bad, just that a very strong pull naturally exists around games.

Playing games can focus and hold attention, but guess what, so can making them.  And remember, kids want to participate.

So enabling them to participate in the design and creation of  their own video games could be the beginning of a perfect storm.

But what else can students get out of creating a video game? How about this…

-Music design and appreciation

-Graphics design and layout abilities

-3D modelling knowledge and skills

-Programming knowledge and skills

-Exposure to topics in psychology

-Team work

-Written and aural communication skills

-Business and marketing concepts

-Exposure to concepts in physics and mathematics

-Critical thinking

-Innovation and entrepreneurship skills

-Exposure to social media and networking sites

-Research skills

And I’m not even warmed up yet!

Sounds to me like this could be a great thing to expose a  new generation to,  that has been disenfranchised to science and technology.

But what about the costs?

We’ll there are a ton of free or very low cost resources available now online.

Real industry calibre game development software like Unity 3D  and the Unreal Development kit can be downloaded and used for free in the classroom. What’s even better is that tools like these are not dumbed down, yet remain highly approachable and easy to learn by educators willing to put in a little time and effort (with policy makers giving them the support, time and permission to do it). Students can take these skills immediately into the real world and start creating real video games for fun, profit or even make it into a career! What’s even better is that the skills and approaches the students have learned in the process of creating games can carry over into all the other realms of science, technology and mathematics making these areas much more interesting and relevant to them.

Conclusion

I’m am both a parent and an  educator and while my children are still quite young, I can not accept a future for them in which science and technology have been written off.

While the debate on the effect of playing games remains unresolved, I hope this post has given you something to think about and that more educators and people in charge of educational policy will see video games for what they really are, a tool and and opportunity to assist in the creation of a bright and prosperous future.


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