Help me help a kid become engaged in learning (via game programming)

I am a tutor. The subjects I cover are pretty much everything except maths. At the moment I have 4 kids ranging from 16 down to 10. They are all great kids who are working hard, grades improving yadda yadda yadda. Except for the 10 yr old.

The kid is smart, precocious and painfully uninterested in learning. He has missed a huge among of school (more than a year) and is woefully behind. My job is to try and reverse some of this.

Presently I am going for the low hanging fruit and he and I have an agreement. The kid likes games - obsessively almost so the program we are working on is based them.
For example a game he is playing mentions the Bermuda triangle so he is researching’ doing comprehension and critical thinking tasks and some creative writing all based on the Bermuda triangle.

He is really interested in actually creating his own computer game. Which I am encouraging because I have ideas on shoving some serious learning into the process as well as getting him interested in some non game stuff.

I however have not so much as a clue as to producing an actual game program. So I am seeking help. Aeons ago I learned Basic but I suspect there just might be something better floating around that Mr precocious could have a go at learning.

So HELP please thankyouverymuch.

There are tons of options, but if you know BASIC, you might have a look at DarkBASIC which is meant for game programming.

If that doesn’t suit you, I’ll think on it some more. (that is just one of many books on DarkBASIC game programming.)

This one might be better as a starter: DarkBASIC Programming for the Absolute Beginner (No Experience Required (Course Technology)) [Paperback]

I gather you’re not a programmer yourself? In that case, I’d recommend looking for a bunch of different options, letting him pick one, and then emphasize that you are both learning together.

There’s a bunch of software out there designed for non-programmers to make games. Some examples to check out
GameMaker has a lite version that’s free if you poke around the site a bit.

Stencyl lets you make flash and iOS games, and uses an interesting plug-things-into-each-other visual approach to the coding.

RPGMaker is designed to make JRPG style games, but people have done some really impressive stuff with it.

RPGMaker is hours and hours of fun.

As a non-programmer, I’ve noticed I can choke quite easily on how abstract creating video games can get, especially when I start getting more ambitious for my abilities. I come in with these great ideas, and 3000 variables later, I’m bored of the grunt work of writing dialog and drawing maps, and frustrated that I can’t quite figure out how to make the neat idea I’m stuck on work with the tools I have and my limited ability to use them. Based on this experience, it may be worth stepping into this endeavor, starting with pen and paper, so that he isn’t trying to program Diablo 3 before he can write a “hello world” program.

The first step might be a choose-your-own-adventure game (which could be executed with simple HTML or on paper). From there, you can do a choose-your-own-adventure with some basic dice rolls, stats, and inventories (if you roll more than stat X, go to page 53; if you have the Skull of Doom, go to page 32). Then you can go more freeform and work with a D&D type system to create adventures with more complex rules. From there, you can experiment with managing some of these rules and statistics electronically, using simple tools (perhaps even Excel) to manage your statistics and calculate damage.

Then, when he’s pretty adept at managing statistics electronically and telling branching stories using these statistics, you can start migrating this mastery into developing an electronic game.

Everyone learns differently, of course, but for me it was really a revelation to understand that a lot that video games do is directly analogous to what I can do with a sheet of paper and a calculator.

So what did you decide on?

I’m getting him to do a project one the pros, cons and costs of each program. He will then have to present his findings to his backers (me, his mum and dad and uncle) who will then make any funding decisions.