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By Adam Syrop on

How to get your kids coding games

Your child loves gaming, but how do you channel that into creativity and learning? Impact Gamers’ Adam Syrop, who has won a BAFTA for his work with young people, looks at the 10 most common battles—and how to overcome them.

This week has been the most surreal in my life—and that includes the week I dressed as a unicorn for a museum Lates event. Last Saturday I was awarded a BAFTA for the work I do mentoring young people… yes, a BAFTA!

At Impact Gamers our aim is to inspire young people to be not just game players, but game makers. We use coding games as a way to raise self esteem, aspirations, social and IT skills.

I’ve been asked to share some of my ‘wisdom’ in games mentoring. So here are 10 struggles I see my students face when game-making—plus added hacks to help. (I don’t think these just apply to children—I face these battles too, and I’m 36.)

Visitors at an Impact Gamers event at the Yorkshire Games Festival

1. How to fan the flames

Your child is interested in gaming (well, playing) but you don’t know how to channel this into creativity.

HACK: Get them along to something inspirational. The next Yorkshire Games Festival takes place at the museum in February and is a great place to start! Plus YouTube has lots of ‘indie games makers’ stories’ that you can watch with your children.

2. The unforgettable idea paradox

Your child comes home from school with the best game idea EVER… and forgets it mid-sentence.

HACK: Make sure you always have a notepad and pen nearby, ideally one small enough to fit in their bag/pocket/bedside drawer. Leave some pages blank to expand on each idea.

Impact Gamers live big-screen event at the Yorkshire Games Festival

3. Will grandma be impressed?

Children’s imaginations are not controlled by the BBFC! Imagination can often lead them ‘beyond their years’ in terms of suitability.

HACK: Be clear and upfront at the beginning. At Impact Gamers we specify: no blood; no real-world guns; no humans dying. When prompted, children actually find it quite easy to come up with less violent situations.

4. Where to start?

You know as much about coding games as your child—zilch.

HACK: Take them along to a local coding club. The Code Club website is a good place to start your research.

If you can’t get to a club, there are plenty of free, basic games-making programs available. We use Clickteam Fusion; there’s also Stencyl, Scratch, GameMaker, Construct 3 and more. Give one a go with help from YouTube tutorials.

Children at a coding club at Impact Gamers

5. Ability vs. Desire

The game idea involves building a whole planet system, with travelling and trading and all sorts of complex detail, and… it’s just not achievable (yet).

HACK: Ask your child to think about the part of their idea that interests them most, and encourage them to build that part first. We aim to get kids completing a working game every 6 weeks.

6. The ‘It’s sooo fun!’ eternal loop

Enjoyable, eye-catching gameplay is vital for a good game. However, adding graphics and sound can make it too much like a cartoon, something your child will want to stop coding and simply watch again and again.

HACK: Keep everything simple: blocks of colour for characters and no sounds—add these at the end. Concentrate on coding and gameplay first.

Adam Syrop working with children at Impact Gamers

7. Keeping going

Coding games is like piano practice: learning is great fun at first, but it can quickly become repetitive. This is a time when your child might want to give up.

HACK: They will need a friend or adult to encourage them to keep going. Clubs are perfect for this regular learning and building of perseverance.

8. But it doesn’t work…

You may hit a point where you have a bug in the game or have no idea how to code the next bit.

HACK: This is a fork in the road. Either:

  • Leave that part of the game and come back to it
  • Get someone more experienced to look over it, or
  • Treat the bug as a game feature and build it into the game

A boy coding a game as part of an Impact Gamers workshop

9. An EVEN BETTER idea!

There are many pulls that will distract your child from their current game; new ideas are one of them.

HACK: Use the notepad and get them to jot it down for later, so they can continue finishing their current game.

10. What on earth is happening?

The game is playable, but people don’t understand how to play.

HACK: It can be a difficult concept for young people to grasp, but the inclusion of instructions—or tutorial stages—is a vital part of coding games. At Impact Gamers we often add written instructions into the game ourselves.

Impact Gamers live big-screen event at the Yorkshire Games Festival

And finally…

Make sure you regularly save your game and, once done, show it to as many people as you can! Be proud of every creation—it’s all part of the learning process.

Impact Gamers run weekly groups using Clickteam Fusion. Learn more about the software at the Impact Gamers website.

Children at Impact Gamers holding the 2018 BAFTA Young Game Designers Mentor Award

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