5 Lessons From Teaching Game Design

Last week we hosted the FREE Foo-tastic Game Design Camp for low-income girls with groups STEAM:CODERS and Coding For Treasure. We had so much fun teaching the girls how to code and make their own games. Even though we were with them for a short amount of time (only 4 days!), we learned a lot from our first ever game design camp:

1) Kids love a challenge

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 11.45.38 AM

The girls we worked with all had little to no coding experience. None of them had ever made a game before. But, in the 4 days of camp we saw all the campers (ranging from grades 2-5) learn complicated concepts like algorithms, game balance, and events. When the campers started making their own games, they’d make the games as difficult as possible – even getting angry that they couldn’t pass the level but refusing to make them easier.

Teaching the kids game balance, or how to make your game not too hard or too easy, helped them understand that while challenges are great, a game still needs to be fun and winnable. As budding game designers, the girls had to put themselves in the shoes of the player and think about what kind of game the player would like.

2) Kids learn very quickly

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 12.13.24 PM

Kids are curious. Our campers asked questions ranging from “how do I get 3 stars in a level” to “how do I make a game about a family?” They were hardly ever discouraged – whenever they got stuck the campers would try out a new solution or ask each other for help. Their persistence paid off whenever they succeeded, and we’d hear them cheer in victory.

While the younger kids (in grades 2-3) needed some more help from the teachers and volunteers, the older kids (grades 4-5) flew through the puzzles in The Foos. They picked up concepts like sequencing, loops, and events so quickly that we had to give them extra exercises to do!

3) Kids are crazy creative

Future game masters

Since this was a game design camp, our campers got the chance to prototype and build their own video game in The Foos. We were blown away by some of the incredibly creative games the girls came up with. Some games had us saving a lost puppy, playing soccer on trampolines, and even an old-school vertical scrolling platformer!

4) Kids can be surprisingly thoughtful

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 11.55.48 AM

We wanted to teach the campers that when making a game, it’s important to give helpful and meaningful feedback about what’s good and what can be improved. Game designers often test their games with hundreds of people in order to make adjustments to the game. We had the campers peer review each other’s games and were surprised by how specific and positive their feedback was. What was great was that the kids would happily make the suggested changes to their games.

5) Any kid can code and make their own games

IMG_0781    IMG_0789

The Foo-tastic Game Design Camp was a way for us to get girls of color from underprivileged backgrounds exposed to STEM subjects like coding and game design. We saw these girls, many of whom have had limited exposure to tablets, quickly learn the basics of coding to make some pretty sophisticated games.

Our campers proved that any kid can code, regardless of gender, color, or socioeconomic background. They were just as curious, excited, and creative as any other kid. They just need the opportunity to do so.

So What’s Next?

We learned a lot about what game design curriculum works and doesn’t work in the camp format. We’re going to make some changes to the camp curriculum, and then make that available online for anyone who also wants to run a Foo-tastic Camp (just promise to send us pictures)!