Leadership Insights Updated December 6, 2019

How to Make Digital Games, and Other Coding Ideas, for Science Fair Projects

By Alisa Bates, PhD February 11, 2013

For students looking to make an impact in the science fair, digital science fair projects games are a great way to go about it. Not only does the process of making a video game involve a ton of scientific thinking, it also produces something that most everyone is interested in. A fun, interesting game will make a student stand out, ensure a good grade and leave the student with something he or she can be proud of.

Some excellent resources exist for students who want to try out video game programming, and a science fair project is a wonderful opportunity to get started. Knowing how video games work, where to get started and some general pathways for game development can help students get on the right track to creating a science project that they can enjoy both during and after their science fair.

The (very) basics of video games

At the most basic level, video games are simply a set of instructions given to a computer that tells the system what to do. These instructions, otherwise known as a program, give the computer all the details about the game. They explain how it should look, including the characters involved and the environment in which they interact. The program also explains how the player interacts with the game, such as how the game reacts when different buttons are pushed, and the sounds that are played when different things are triggered while playing.

To communicate all this with the computer, the person writing the game must be able to write in a language that it will understand. There are a variety of computer programming languages that people use, and learning them can be tough at first. Fortunately, it is possible to make simple video games without learning a programming language. By using a simple program like Scratch, created by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), students can start making their first games almost immediately.

Starting is easier than ever

To make the next great video game, students will need to put in quite a bit of practice doing some real programming. But for the next science fair, or just to get a taste of what making games feels like, students can begin with Scratch or other similar programs.

Scratch allows students who have never done any programming to make games. It does this by allowing users to string together simple commands, in the form of blocks that can be dragged and dropped using a mouse. Using enough blocks, students can create relatively complex instructions for their games.

Begin with a simple game

The educators over at Science Buddies have created a great set of instructions for students to get started using Scratch to program video games. In the example provided, students can create a game of chase between a dog and a cat. They can determine the behaviors of both the dog and the cat, and can create the rules surrounding the game play, all using the block system of Scratch.

By the end of programming the dog and cat chase game, students will have a good understanding of the basics of simple game design. The Science Buddies example also has a set of pointers for how to take the game farther, allowing students to become even more creative in their programming.

Taking it further

For students who want to take their science fair ideas even further than the previous example, a range of simple programming applications are available to allow beginners to explore the world of programming and help them advance on the path of coding and digital game development.

A few such applications include:

Scratch – this tool, created by MIT, helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively

Arduino – a little more difficult, but includes hardware that students can incorporate into their programs, allowing them to build movable objects controlled by their programs

Alice – an open source 3D programming application, allows students to create animations using drag and drop

The sky is the limit

Students can create some interesting digital games and other coding applications for their science fair projects using the resources above. With computer programming, though, the sky really is the limit for kids who are interested. So many opportunities are available for students who really take to programming. Those who do should be encouraged to the fullest.

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