An ability to make something is a cornerstone for certain learning theories, such as Seymour Papert’s constructionism. Carrying out a scientific experiment, writing a poem or building a city with Lego bricks are only some examples of the creative processes involved in an individual's learning process. And doing, in the sense of creating something, includes virtual doing. Writing a computer programme for practical use, such as putting a telephone directory in order, is just one instance of this.
And, on this note, creating a video game is one of the best ways to learn by building.
Imagine creating a world in your head that you can add to every single day with new ideas. And think of having to breathe life into this world, for yourself and for others. The first thing to be done is to write down a description of this world - who inhabits it, the characteristics of these inhabitants and the relationships between them. We could then add some cartoon-strip drawings to our “screenplay” or even use a videocamera to make a film. And what if you wanted to dwell in this living world of your own creation? How?
The solution is to take control of your “digital me” or the character who you want to star in your story and move them around your new world. What we are describing is how a video game comes about. In our particular case, not a fun video game designed merely to amuse (which nevertheless requires a huge number of skills to put together), but rather a video game with an actual plot, character development, an exciting world to explore, knowledge to acquire and mysteries to be solved.
What skills are developed through game-making
A game like this does not only call for digital and computer skills, but also logical and mathematical abilities (to move elements around in space), grammatical and language capabilities (for the screenplay and dialogue) and knowledge of history and geography. And that is without mentioning notions of ethics and philosophy (for instance, the main character will need to make choices and decide whether to sacrifice themselves to save their beloved, a classic theme found in numerous novels!).
Summing the whole process up in a few words is an impossible feat, but we can give some simple directions on how to build a video game which includes all the elements mentioned above.
How to produce a simple video game by yourself
The first piece of software you can use is called Scratch and it's free of charge.
Scratch allows you either to choose or import a great number of images to be used either as the background or game characters. It is also easy and intuitive to programme in each single element, using block coding. Each block corresponds to an action that your character can perform, like moving around, talking and interacting with their surrounds. Its extreme ease of use makes it the best programming environment for beginners. Remember, though, that the order in which the blocks are inserted is essential.
Another piece of software which is more complex yet still user-friendly is Rpg Maker, a programme that creates what are known as role-playing games. Here the onus is on character development, the plot of the game and the interaction of the characters with their surrounds. Many successful games which sell millions of copies have been made with Rpg Maker! However, unlike Scratch, it is not free. There are lots of different versions and even the older ones (like Rpg Maker XP) are more than satisfactory and quite affordable!
The last piece of software we have in mind for you is actually a game itself - the world-famous Minecraft.
Based on the construction method underlying Lego, Minecraft is a virtual world made up of little blocks that allow you to create a game within the game! Indeed, you can use Minecraft to create a virtually never-ending world that follows the physical laws of our own. Anything is possible. Whatever you can invent, you can also build and even working logic circuits can be used!
Creating your own video game is an incredibly gratifying experience. Not only is it a valid way to learn a host of new skills, but it allows our much beloved children to unleash their imagination and enjoy an unforgettable experience!