young female wearing glasses in red t-shirt pointing at laptop screen with game characters
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Sponsor

From players to creators: how game design is empowering students

June 19, 2023 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The education sector is facing many challenges, from stretched budgets to major staffing issues. In addition, post-pandemic, engagement levels are still in recovery, while children’s interest in STEM subjects is declining. Especially with girls. Could teaching video game development help schools and colleges to level-up?

a young female in red head scarf/shawl and black coat looking at a document held by a male with grey hair and glasses

Frank Moody, education relations lead at GameMaker - a game development engine used by schools and colleges, believes now is the perfect time for educators to introduce video game development in classrooms.

Q. Why should educators consider introducing game design lessons, given the manifold challenges they are currently facing?

Let’s face facts - kids absolutely love video games. Nine in ten play games on a regular basis to unwind and hang out with their friends.

That said, one of the first questions teachers always ask me is how to translate a passion for playing games into engaged students in the classroom, and what benefits can they get from learning to make their own games at school?

I’ve talked to a lot of schools that offer video game development classes, and three out of four say it’s super effective at keeping students engaged. This is because students tend to approach game design with so much enthusiasm that they don’t even realize they’re learning something difficult. And that’s the beauty of it. When you combine a subject that kids are already passionate about with an active, hands-on learning approach, the results can be pretty amazing.

So if you’re looking for ways to shake up your classroom and get your students excited about learning, game design might just be the ticket. It’s a fun, creative way to teach important skills, and who knows - you might just inspire the next generation of game designers!

Q. But beyond boosting engagement, how does learning game development support students in key areas, like STEM?

When you look at the skills you need to do well in STEM subjects, like problem-solving, creativity, and teamwork, they are right there at the fore when you’re making a video game. Just getting the character in your game to walk across the screen and enter a doorway involves solving a bunch of problems and calculations. But because it’s video games, and kids love video games, they become completely absorbed in problem-solving as they just want to add cool new features to their games.

However, while both boys and girls enjoy playing video games pretty much equally, when it comes to STEM education there’s a big gender split - one that starts to get worse as students get older. According to a survey by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, teenage girls tend to be more interested in careers in fields like art, education, healthcare, and animal care, while boys are more into ICT, engineering, and construction. Only a tiny percentage of girls are really considering working in engineering or technology .

A lot of young girls are getting pushed away from STEM because of outdated ideas about what boys and girls are “supposed” to be good at, toxic cultures in STEM fields, and a lack of opportunities. That means we only have a few years to help nurture their interests before they start to tune out for good.

So what can we do about it? Well, a Microsoft study of 6,000 girls and young women says one solution is to give teachers more engaging, hands-on STEM curriculums that feel relatable to girls. But as girls tend to love games as much as boys, we should introduce them to video game development in schools and colleges.

Other studies have shown that when students feel like they have a say or a voice in what they’re learning and can work on projects that really matter to them, they’re more likely to stick with STEM subjects - and that’s good news for everyone!

a group of students in GameMaker's red t-shirt, raise hands in a classroom, some are holding GameMaker Gamers of the Future certificates in Spanish

Q. So how does making video games help give students a voice?

When you create a game, you have to make a ton of decisions every step of the way.

First, you come up with the game concept, and then you have to figure out how to bring it to life. This process teaches concrete and abstract thinking, problem-solving, and creative decision-making.

But it’s not just a solo endeavor. Game development involves communication and collaboration, too. For example, the game’s artist and programmer need to work together to create the game’s art and audio. This allows students to develop social and interpersonal skills with people who have different interests and perspectives.

In addition to these technical skills, students also learn about professional empathy. They ask themselves questions like, ‘What will my audience expect?’ and ‘Is my game easy to use?’ These are important questions that apply to many modern professions, such as marketing, UX, and app development.

The design thinking mindset that students develop through game development takes time and practice. It requires creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. But the good news is that these skills are naturally occurring in game development.

So when students design and create their own games, they’re able to personalize their learning experience and collaborate with their peers. Game development can even be used to teach humanities subjects, like history and philosophy, while offering real-life job prospects in a growing industry. It’s a win-win!

Q. For girls who continue with STEM as a result of learning to make games, what does the future look like?

If girls continue with STEM by learning to make games, it could lead to a more diverse and inclusive video game industry. Currently, most video games are made by men, and for men, which is a problem that the industry is slowly recognizing and addressing. Encouraging and welcoming female developers and coders can create new job opportunities in the industry and provide girls interested in STEM with a chance to contribute their skills and perspectives to game design.

GameMaker IDE screenshot

Q. What sort of tools and platforms are available to enable educators to start teaching game design?

There are a number of solid tools and engines that enable students to get quick and tangible results, as well as providing a comprehensive library of supportive resources. I’d say the best game-making tools available to students include:

  • GameMaker: GameMaker is a simple, fast, and free game engine that specialises in 2D. Students can start building games immediately with the beginner-friendly visual coder, before advancing their learning with GameMaker’s own coding language. GameMaker’s Education Licence is free to all teachers, offering them the resources they need to bring game design to students in a classroom environment.
  • Unity: The Unity engine is capable of creating 2D and 3D games. They offer their own education license, which is only free for qualifying institutions. The engine is supported by thousands of community-made tutorials to help users create their games, but beginners can find the difficulty curve much steeper than the alternatives.
  • Game Builder Garage: This Nintendo Switch game, developed by Nintendo EPD, uses a cartoon-y visual code editor to teach the basics of programming. Students can make some impressive games within Garage, but without consistent support from Nintendo, their learning is unlikely to progress much higher than ‘beginner’.
  • Godot: A free and open source game engine, Godot is capable of creating both 3D and 2D games, although its 2D capabilities perform slightly better. Games are built by placing ‘nodes’ within ‘scenes’. Godot has a thinner resource pool than its competitors, making it harder to pick up and get started.

Q. I’m curious about the costs associated with teaching game design in schools. Can you tell me more about that?

We understand that budgets are tight for schools these days, which is why we’ve made GameMaker completely free to use for any class size. And teachers can access all the teaching materials and tutorials they need for free as well.

The free version of GameMaker doesn’t include export functionality, which is typically only needed by postgraduate-level students. But if a school wants to share games on all major platforms, they can purchase a site license.

Start introducing game design lessons in your school or college today, by visiting