Game Review: CodeCombat

This game review is part of our ‘Game of Code Week’ series.

Like most 4th grade boys, Ethan and Josh love online games — the more destructive, the better. Recently the two took a break from Minecraft to try CodeCombat, a web fantasy game that teaches players the basics of computer science. And they couldn’t get enough.

In fact, Ethan’s older sister Ashly, also Josh’s after-school babysitter, commented: “They really had a lot of fun playing the game. Josh now doesn’t want to play Minecraft when I come over to watch him. He and Ethan just want to play CodeCombat and learn how to make their characters stronger.”

In their own words, here are Ethan and Josh describing why they get so excited about CodeCombat and why they’d recommend the game to other kids:

Ethan and Josh review Code Combat.

In CodeCombat, players don’t learn to be engineers by playing the game – they learn the more important foundational skills like formal syntax, conditional logic and variables. The game itself is set in a fantasy realm in which the player must code to defeat the forces of the marauding ogre hordes.

The story behind CodeCombat

George Saines, Nick Winter, and Scott Erickson founded CodeCombat in 2013. The founders met each other ten years ago at Oberlin College in Ohio, where they were roommates. The three of them graduated in 2008 with degrees in computer science (Nick and Scott) and Economics (George).

From 2008–13, the three worked on their first startup Skritter, which teaches Chinese and Japanese characters. Nick and Scott handle all things technical, George handles all things related to the operation of the company.

At Skritter, George was constantly frustrated by his inability to contribute to the development process. He tried most of the existing learn-to-code resources and found them to be boring. At the same time, Nick and Scott realized that the core of George’s problem was something they had already solved at Skritter: people failing to learn a difficult skill through intensive learning when they should be learning through extensive practice.

For those that haven’t run an EdTech startup, the difference between extensive and intensive is simple. Reading textbooks and listening to lectures typify intensive learning; intensive learning is didactic and concentrated.

Extensive learning, by contrast, is the sort that occurs without specific intent. A child learning hand-eye coordination while playing Nintendo is an example of extensive learning.

As gamers and computer nerds, it seemed obvious to Nick, Scott, and George: what learners needed was a computer game that teaches programming. (Story from CodeCombat).