Should Game Designers Learn How to Program?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

These are public postings of my writings for the first course of the Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Game Design and Research at Michigan State University.

I’ve already posted my meanderings for last week, but there was another question asked, which I think is a really good one, so I’ll add it here, even though it isn’t officially part of the course assignments.

I wonder if we should learn programming since hiring them can be so costly.  C++ is supposed to be a good one for gaming and I know there are ways to learn it in a user friendly environment.  For example, Game Salad allows you to modify existing games and publish them and it’s fun.  I know this is not the solution for a comprehensive serious game but I think even if we are not doing the coding, it is beneficial to know the basics so you can talk the language.

Can’t resist this one. My first 2 degrees are in computer science (BSc & MSc). I ran my first programs on punched cards before there were PCs. My answer to your question of whether we should learn to program ourselves is most emphatically YES, but not for the reasons you suggest.

~Warning: this is a soapbox issue for me, so I tend to go on (and on…)~


Learning to program is not that hard, but learning to program WELL is. It takes most people years of study and 10’s (or 100’s) of 1,000’s of lines of code under their belts to get really good. I would not expect someone to do that unless they were really serious about needing to be able to program.

If your project needs programmers, then it needs GOOD programmers – people who understand algorithms and who know what’s important in game programming.

You may not need programmers at all. There are getting to be more and more tools that will allow you to build games without having to be a programmer, so you don’t need to learn programming in order to build your own games.

Whichever way you approach it though, you are likely to need tech people of one description or another.

On the other hand, learning to program teaches you something that is extremely important: it teaches you how programs work. If you don’t actually know how computers and programs work, then you are at the mercy of those who do. This is no longer a trivial concern.

I think far too many people end up being at the mercy of the tech guys who tell people what can and can’t be done. It’s one of my personal peeves – after teaching programming for 25+ years, I can say with confidence that MOST of the annoyances in everything from drop-down lists to online ordering to university registration systems are a result of poor design (and lazy programmers). I ranted about this on my blog this summer. The book I co-wrote with my partner was intended to address part of this problem too – it talks about the technical aspects of computer simulations and games for people who are not programmers.



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