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Coding, it's really just a game

Coding is a very versatile talent to have in the STEM Workforce. If you think about it, coding is all around you. It’s in computer chips, televisions, robots, vehicle software, and even in multi-mode flashlights. Coding is a very powerful tool that can be used everywhere these days, and depending on how you are taught, it may not be as hard to learn as you might think. Now, before you step into learning complex computer language, you may want to start by interacting with retro video games. Coding and video games have a correlation, inputs and outputs. If you observe retro video games closely, you will notice that you can get an idea of what their code might be. This can be easily seen in the 1980’s space arcade game, Galaga. In this game, you move a joystick right or left to avoid enemy attacks while trying to shoot them down before they destroy your spaceship. The code for this game states that when the input from your joystick moves right, the output is that your spaceship on the screen moves right. In addition, when the input from the fire button on the controls is pressed, the output is seen as a missile flying out of your spaceship that disappears if it touches an enemy target on the screen. Playing simple, retro arcade games like this can help you take the first steps in understanding the basic process of coding.

Once you have spent a good number of hours playing retro video games, you should instinctively be ready to visualize the process of computer coding as inputs and outputs. Once you understand inputs and outputs, you are ready to learn how to code. The best way to begin programming code is through the use of blocks of code. There are many different programs that allow you to use these blocks of code; one such program is called Hopscotch. This is a mobile app that uses very simple blocks of code so that almost anyone can learn the basics. These blocks are basically lines of code that are grouped together so that you can just drop them into place in order to create simple program instructions. Blocks of code are there to help you understand the order of instructions for programming. Once you have gotten the hang of blocks of code, you can then start learning the complexity of computer language. This might look perplexing at first, but since you already know the order of instructions as defined by the blocks, you can start to see how the lines of code work together to form commands.

When programming commands, video games illustrate the process best. Since you are looking at a picture on a screen in a defined space, you can see the immediate effects of inputed instructions. In 2D video games like the popular arcade game Pac-Man, there are only 2 axes, one X and one Y. Learning the 2D movements in a video game is similar to using graph paper in a geometry class to draw a picture. If you plot a point at x=3, y=7, you will count 3 spaces to the right and 7 spaces up on your page to plot your point. If you want that point to move, then you plot different coordinates. The same applies in the code of 2D games. Now if you add another piece of graph paper and stand it up on top of the flat piece of graph paper, you now have another plane and that’s your Z axis. You can now plot points in 3D. The same rules apply to programming movements in 3D computer spaces. With that said, virtual and augmented reality offer games that exist in your off-the-screen 3D space. This coding can get even more complicated, but in general, the mathematics and order of operations all stay the same. In conclusion, the basic building blocks of computer language are codes, and using video games as an example of coding in action, you may be able to better understand how it all works. It makes sense that video games are an excellent way to learn coding seeing that the co-founders of Apple computers previously worked for the video game company, Atari, where they invented the hit game, Breakout, in the 1970s. Looks like coding isn’t all work and no play.