By Tanner Higgin, Graphite
The push to get kids to code has been such a hot topic these past few years you might be sick of hearing about it. There are those that see code as a critical skill -- like learning a second language -- which all kids need to learn. Others question whether programming is as important as critical thinking, or if code literacy is more or less important than traditional textual/numerical literacy. While this controversy continues to circulate, most people can agree that a basic understanding of code and coders is an increasingly important part of being a critical thinker in a world that's full of screens and data.
Since digital games are both coded objects and systems that can be critiqued and better understood, they sit nicely between the evangelistic and tempered supporters of code literacy. Games build critical thinking skills and teach code literacy, offering authentic experiences that let kids experiment with how code works. They're solid platforms to begin exploring programming.
Code-focused learning games run the gamut of age/grade ranges and level of code complexity. They can also be split into two discrete but interconnected camps: those that teach the procedural logics of programming -- like Kodable Pro or Cargo-Bot -- and those that dig into programming and scripting, most often using visual metaphors for code -- like Tynker or Gamestar Mechanic.
More recently, there's been a few games that up the ante of authentic code-based learning -- games that peel back the façade and allow players to tweak the code of the game as they play. Confused? Think of it like opening up the hood of a game, and fiddling with the engine -- as you drive.