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when I grow up I want to be a video game designer

I have two school-aged boys who were born in the YouTube and Minecraft generation, when everybody who wants to be anybody wants to follow in the footsteps of Dan TDM or Notch (creator of Minecraft). When the opportunity knocked for us to review an ebook with the title, “When I grow up I want to be… A Video Game Designer” of course I had to say ‘Yes!’

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WannaBe™-When I Grow Up I Want to be a Video Game Designer is part of the WannaBe series from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. This ebook peeks into the lives of computer programmers who either makes video games for a living, or who dabbles in video game design as an interest or hobby.

In the ebook, five professionals tell stories about their lives as video game designers–each sharing how they started in video game design, and what their typical work day looks like. Some parts of the ebook emphasized character traits and attitudes necessary to attain success in this line of work. Others described the many steps involved in video game development. There were a number of technical terms scattered throughout the ebook, such as names of computer games, programming languages, and other programming-related terminologies. Thankfully, there were footnotes containing word definitions and links to related websites, which came in very handy, especially for readers who are not well versed in such terms.

After the personal anecdotes of the video game designers, there were worksheets, quizzes, writing prompts and word puzzles, most of which we never really got to use as they were more suited for older children. Instead, I made cursive handwriting worksheets for some of the new vocabulary words we learned from the text.

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We read the ebook aloud for one week, tackling one ‘day in the life’ story each day. My boys always say that they want to be ‘gamers’ when they grow up, but nobody in the family (given that we don’t have a technology background) really knew how to make an actual living out of video games, much less explain these stuff to 8- and 9-year old boys. Hearing the stories of real-life video game designers was the perfect entry point for digging up more information about computer programming, in general, and video games in particular.

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Before we started reading the ebook, we watched the video Computer Science is Changing Everything to emphasize the practical uses for computers and computer programming in everyday life. When we read the stories, we also encountered different models of personal computers from as early as 1970s. The boys decided to do more Internet research about this topic, and ended up creating a Timeline of Personal Computers.

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It also helped that they were attending a special class on Robotics. They were familiar with some of the computer programming lingo, having dabbled on some bits of programming here and there using Arduino. They even made a funny video about this, Teaching Spiderman How to Code, using stop-motion animation.

I would say that reading the stories from the ebook made them appreciate the kind of work put in by programmers in each video game. They now have a clearer picture of what ‘gamers’ do in real life, apart from playing video games, of course. They also drew what their future workspace would look like once they’ve become ‘pro’.

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At the end of each ‘day in the life’ story, they get to do an Hour of Code–these are hands-on tutorials for introducing the basics of computer programming to children of any age. The site contains game-based programming activities in Minecraft, Star Wars, Flappy Bird, etc., which according to Ari and Uri, makes learning to code fun!

I like how the book highlighted the real, everyday stories of regular people doing their jobs (which just happened to be all about video games!). It clearly showed that working in something as fun as video games also requires a great deal of hard work. They both learned this from the book, and also experienced this when they did some of the coding themselves. Personally, I appreciated the emphasis given on the values and character traits needed to become a successful video game designer. I am not a computer programmer, and while I know that traits such as good communication, attention to detail, or strong work ethic is important, I would not be able to explain these things within the context of video game design and development, in a way as it was done in the book.

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When I asked the boys what they liked about the ebook, Ari said he enjoyed the stories the most. He admired how the people in the stories were able to find ways to learn more about computers and start doing programming stuff all by themselves. He felt inspired that he could do it too. Uri was especially amused by stories of the programmers when they were younger. He got a kick out of the video games they played, and the computers they used since way back. What he didn’t like about the book is that it did not have a lot of pictures, a natural remark from this visual learner.

If you have children interested in computers and gaming, and want to give them a realistic perspective of what goes on in this line of work, this is a good book to read aloud to them. WannaBe™-When I Grow Up I Want to be a Video Game Designer is an engaging introduction to the world of video game programming. It’s no idiot guide, though, so don’t expect that whoever reads the book comes up with his own video game in an instant. As I’ve said, the book is a great introduction, piques readers’ interest, but is not a complete reference in itself. BUT, with a little spark and a gentle nudge, you might just find in your household, tiny computer geeks all hunched up and writing code for their very first video game!

P.S. This review is for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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