Combining coding and creativity at Mozfest

This year at Mozfest, we will be holding a Mini Game Jam session in the youth zone that will introduce children aged 8–14 to professional-level coding skills — in the context of interactive storytelling and game design.

Changing the perception of computer science is really important to me — from a personal standpoint and fuelled by interviewing hundreds of students as part of the product research for Erase All Kittens.

When I was at school, computing couldn’t have seemed further away from the subjects I found creative and interesting. It was a competitive institution, and students were quickly categorised as being ‘academic’ or ‘better at languages’ and ‘arty’ if they didn’t get an A or above in maths.

A B-grade meant that I fell into the latter category, and as I grew older, I couldn’t help thinking of computer science as a subject for people with a completely different brain to mine — more for logical and mathematical geniuses than a girl who loved English, music and art.

So I grew up thinking that I wasn’t good at computing, or with technology in general, and my experience isn’t unusual. For more than four decades, computer science has been taught in a way that only a tiny percentage of students have been inspired by — and an even tinier percentage of girls.

Although the UK computing curriculum was transformed three years ago to become more relevant to 21st century students, how coding is perceived amongst most children and adults hasn’t really changed. Computer science is still generally perceived as being ‘difficult’, ‘boring’ and ‘geeky’, by kids above the age of twelve, and it is considered to be more appealing to students who are better at maths and science as opposed to those with an interest in languages and the arts.

The truth is, there’s not much point in a student learning to code if they can’t think creatively. Contrary to what most people think, coding isn’t really a subject like maths or science meant for computer geniuses — it’s simply a tool with which to deliver creativity.

This is why we’re holding our mini game jam session at Mozfest — to show kids that learning professional programming languages can be fun, and to eliminate any fears that they may have of not being clever enough or not being the ‘right kind of clever’.

For the first part of our workshop, children will be given access to the full version of E.A.K. and will be introduced to the basics of HTML via story-driven gameplay. After that we will discuss several key aspects of the game design process, such as the story, game mechanics and character design, and kids will work in small groups to brainstorm ideas for games.

We’re hoping that by the end of the workshop, children will feel inspired to use interactivity in media and learn more about the creative potential of computing. Our mission is to encourage both boys and girls to want to learn more about coding, and to bridge the gap between learning computational thinking, and skills which can be applied in a creative, ‘real-world’ context.

Dee Saigal is Chief Scribbler at Erase All Kittens.