Bored with just being a player
Going from gamer to coder the dream for this 12-year-old
For 12-year-old gaming enthusiast Daniel Domanski, group coding camps were not enough to reach his goal of building his own video game by the end of summer.
He told his father that after six years, he didn’t want to just play video games anymore, he wanted to build them.
“I thought that would be fun: I get to actually create my own rather than just sitting there playing them,” he said, adding he’s done other coding camps but recently decided he wanted to get serious about learning how to program.
So, his dad, a cardiologist who also has a computer programming degree, found a one-on-one immersive experience at Real Programming 4 Kids.
“This is the real thing as opposed to just playing at it,” Dr. Michael Domanski said.
“They’re really teaching him, they’re really going down a sequence of coding languages that would take him from where he is — which is zero for all practical purposes — all the way to using the standard in the field which is this Unity program.”
At15 years old, Real Programming 4 Kids predates the recent kids coding craze. Company president Elliot Bay originally pitched it as therapy for kids’ video game addictions, marketing it as an opportunity to learn what’s behind their favourite games.
Now, second-graders through to high school students are coming because they want to program and the company is growing by 10 to 15 per cent every year.
The students are still about 90 per cent boys, but the percentage of girls in the classes is increasing steadily, he added.
The classes are small at four kids maximum. Instructors teach basic programming languages — from Java to Unity 3D — by recreating classic video games like Pac-Man or Mario.
Many of the students go on to complete computer science degrees in university and some alumni have gone on to work at Microsoft and other tech and gaming companies. Some have even created their own games.
Daniel Domanski has only been at it for a few weeks and is still at the beginner level. It’s been more difficult than he thought to remember the niggling details — but that hasn’t deterred him from going further.
When he gets home, he talks about coding at the dinner table and he even does coding homework because he’s so excited about it. His spelling is improving as he learns to code because if he gets a word wrong he’ll have a build error and the debugging process will take longer.
While other kids run through sprinklers, he will sit in a dark church room with his tutor, Daniel West, every afternoon for six weeks this summer to learn the basics by working on a project and learning at his own pace.
It’s a lot of hours in front of the screen and it requires a lot of concentration and memorization, West said.
“I was worried at first because often enough if there’s any problem when it comes down to decoding video games it’s that a lot of the kids get really discouraged when they find out how hard it is and you have to re-motivate them and get their attention.” Domanski gets worn out, but doesn’t quit. When he can’t figure something out, he goes back to check his work to see what he did the previous time. It takes less and less time to come up with the solution.
“I really enjoy that drive even though it can be a wild ride to steer it sometimes,” West said.
Domanski is a fan of open-world games that allow him to wander around in a world on his own. His favourite is Skyrim. He asks West repeated questions about how it was built and when and whether he’ll be able to design something like that.
But as his instructor explains, that game took 90 programmers and many years to build. So Domanski is starting with learning how to set up by decoding the game Magicka, an indie game that is easier to reverse engineer.
Though Domanski isn’t sure if he’s going to be a game programmer when he grows up, his dad is happy to pay the $635 per week because he believes his son is learning an invaluable skill set that will permeate all industries for the next generation.
“They have to be computer literate,” he said.
“It’s the future.”
Daniel West, left, says his pupil Daniel Domanski, 12, though still at the beginner level, is very motivated to learn coding.