CodeSpells is a first-person game created to teach Java programming. Yeah – that just happened. A project by computer scientists at the University Of California, the game is designed to teach school students the programming language, as a solution for the difficulties of providing computer science education to younger teenagers.
As reported by PhysOrg, the researchers tested out the game with a group of 40 girls, aged 10 to 12, with no previous exposure to programming. They had the mechanics explained to them, and were then simply encouraged to explore the game’s world. They say that after just an hour, they had got to grips with some of the basic components of Java. Which is more than I’ve managed in every attempt to learn any programming language, from BASIC to PERL.
In the game, commands are portrayed as magic spells. You play as a wizard, in a land of gnomes, aiding them to recover their magic. By writing spells in Java, you can fly, levitate objects, and most importantly, set things on fire.
What seems significant here is that the concept hasn’t been simplified to the point where you never actually see code. But rather, the immediately scary-looking page of text and brackets directly correlates to events in an explorable 3D world. Clearly the presentation is pretty clumsy, despite being made in Unity – it would have been nice to see the team perhaps looking for the help of some local San Diego developers to spruce things up a bit.
Right now only the Mac version of the game’s beta is available, but the PC version should be arriving very soon. The final version will also be released for free, to make an accessible learning tool in schools without specialists to teach it themselves. Which is pretty much all schools.
Which is really just such a splendid idea, and a fantastic way to see young people realising that coding isn’t beyond them. If 10 year olds can be shown how accessible programming is to them, they’ll have an enormous headstart.