So, You Want to Create Your Own Video Games

When I bought my son the V-Tech video game at age 3, my husband said, "I want you to remember that you were the one that first introduced him to video games."  I think he was trying to cover himself in case our son became a video game addict later in life. Or, maybe he was expressing real concern over the overwhelmingly (at the time) negative media about the dangerous effects to children when they spend excessive amounts of time playing video games.  His warning wasn't necessary on two accounts.  First, our little farmer boy had, and continues to have, very little interest in the digital world.  Second, several recent studies have shown that playing video games increases critical thinking and problem solving.

As a teacher, I know that most students love to play video games.  If the game is interesting enough, they don't even let mistakes or losing keep them from trying over and over again until they finally master whatever is needed to keep going in the game.  Now, that's something I want to copy in my teaching!  I decided to begin by creating an after school Video Game Creator Club.

First, I considered using Scratch.  Fourth and fifth grade students used Scratch to create animated holiday cards during the Hour of Code in December.  Some loved it and created amazing cards (including farmer boy).  Others found it a little too tough.  It has the advantage of being free, available on the Web without downloading anything, and supported by a broad community and established curriculum.  Still, I was hesitant because the learning curve seemed a little tough for many of my under 11 set.
Then, I found Multimedia Fusion 2.  It includes a fantastic 1-hour (ish) tutorial that will have your little programmers playing their very own video game in short order.  The tutorial guides you through the steps to create a classic break-out style game, but is designed to introduce you to the key functions of the software and the kind of questions you should be asking yourself as you develop a game.  You have to capitalize on their interest quick.  Once engaged, they will stick through the tougher parts.  This software has that down! 

I met with my video game creators last Tuesday, and what a thrill!  They were picking up on the concepts of game creation lightning fast.  Of course, it helps that all of them were in the coding club from last session.  So, they had a good understanding of conditionals, giving explicit instructions for every action, and basic logic.  They didn't quite finish the one hour tutorial, but not because it was too hard.  They were just busy improvising!  They were so kind and helpful to each other, too.  (Thank you, for that wonderful first lesson on responsibilities of a computer scientist, including "paying it forward").

It felt like I was walking on clouds as I escorted them to the car rider line at the end of club and listened to them talking excitedly about their plans for their games.  Overheard: 

        "I'm going to hide extra blocks underneath the first layer that will be worth more points than the top layer blocks."
        "Yeah, that would be a great level 2 for the game."
        "Did you see the motion activated objects in the library? I'm going to use those in the next level.  So, when you hit those, you get extra mobility, or maybe extra lives." 

It was exciting because they weren't just talking about some abstract ideas for creating a video game, they were basing it on what they had just seen and done with the tool.  They get it and are ready to take it way beyond the tutorial... all by themselves!  Actually, not all by themselves becuase they are eagerly and generously helping and encouraging each other. 

We only have 6 weeks in this club, so focusing solely on their games is enough for now.  Next year, however, I am enlisting these super stars in creating curriculum-based games for their classmates to play.  I may even have to try offering this to the teachers, too. 


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