Computer programming for kids
August 3, 2011 7:11 PM   Subscribe

My son (9) says he wants to learn how to do programming, specifically how to build computer games. Is there any good, pc-based software that introduces kids to basic programming?
posted by Framer to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
It might be a bit early, but I've heard lots of interesting stuff about Alice. There's a version for high schoolers, and a version for middle schoolers (see low left corner), and if he's advanced for this age, the middle school version may be right for him already.
posted by deezil at 7:32 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Game Maker is easy to use, one can make a game just using drag and drop commands but move onto the game's scripting language if they require it. GM should introduce your son to all the basic logic and elements to a game without overwhelming him.
posted by hellojed at 7:33 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, you are looking for Scratch. There are great videos to get him started.

Once he is comfortable with the blocks approach, he can move on to more advanced stuff.
posted by fake at 7:34 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

My son who just turned 10 has enjoyed Gamestar Mechanic. It's web-based, not something you install on a computer, so I'm not sure if that's outside your parameters. It seems well-designed to me; you play a few levels of a game, which unlocks new things you can then use in creating your own levels.
posted by not that girl at 7:39 PM on August 3, 2011

This question actually gets asked (in various forms) pretty frequently, so a search should turn up a variety of options and the reasons folks give for each recommendation.

Executive summary of my personal viewpoint: Scratch runs faster, is easier, and is more fun for young kids than Alice. Python makes a nice next step after Scratch (you might like PyGame and EasyGUI for a gentler transition away from the cartoon-ey Scratch environment) but Scratch is more immediately rewarding.
posted by richyoung at 7:49 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Game Maker. All three of my sons started with that.
posted by brownrd at 7:57 PM on August 3, 2011

Nthing Scratch. It's a great way for kids to start learning to program.
posted by mewohu at 8:14 PM on August 3, 2011

I started on MSW Logo when I was about 10. It's not exactly game-friendly, and pretty spartan, but it got me going. Actually, I also read Bebop Bytes Back, which comes with a mainframe simulator. It begins with programming in raw binary, and the highest level of abstraction you hit is assembly. Seriously. I never actually programmed anything with it, but boy did it give me a lot to think about.

Then I transitioned to Flash (pirated, obviously, but I was like twelve, and this was before there was any reasonable way to compile Actionscript for less than multiple hundreds of dollars. Now the main bits are open source and I compile in Flex or FlashDevelop). It's a decent environment for game programming, especially if you add on something like Flixel.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:01 PM on August 3, 2011

Processing. All free tools, all downloadable on the website. Its all graphical, so your son can see immediate results, and start off by tweaking values, or typing in the free tutorial programs on the site.
posted by Joh at 9:37 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd add Adventure Game Studio to the list, too.
posted by radioedit at 11:43 PM on August 3, 2011

He's 9? I'd consider Kodu. Free software. Demands much less precision than an adult language. Concepts like "bad guy" and "power-up" and "player" are pre-programmed, and the kid uses a visual user interface to program their interactions.
posted by foursentences at 5:36 AM on August 4, 2011

RPG Maker if he wants to make RPG games. It's another GUI-based one, in a similar vein to GameMaker, except that it's better at RPGs where GameMaker is better at platformers and arcade games. (You can make most kinds of games in both programs, but it's more difficult.) There are two versions legally available in English: XP and VX. I think both support Ruby scripting if you outgrow the GUI, XP definitely does. But you can make some pretty complex games before you start butting up against those limitations.
posted by purplecrackers at 6:19 PM on August 4, 2011

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