Can Super Mario Maker Inspire Kids to Code?

Super Mario Maker 101

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Super Mario Maker, arguably known for its level creation tools and incredibly difficult user-made stages, is probably not a game you'd associate with grade-school education. But Nintendo, in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library, hosted an event recently where the game was put in the hands of children, not for the sake of entertainment, but to help them learn game design.

This isn't Nintendo's first foray into creating software with an scholastic bent; 20 years ago you could play the Nintendo-themed Mario is Missing! and Mario Teaches Typing. But this recent move was inspired by a nationwide push towards getting kids interested in computer science and digital learning.

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At the San Francisco Public Library, Nintendo spokesperson Kit Ellis stood surrounded by children hunched over Wii U gamepads, said, "We're aware of the trend of coding as a thing that's being folded into a lot of curriculum, but obviously Super Mario Maker is not about coding, it's about game design. We saw some similarities in that, a lot of people are learning coding and being able to make games."

"But that's only part one and part two," he continued. "You can code a game but then you need to learn how to make a fun game. With this [event], we're helping kids learn what makes a fun game and how they can use the building blocks of Mario to enable that."

Using Super Mario Maker as the base, Nintendo used the event to educate children on the fundamental concepts of level design: theme, difficulty, and audience. After a brief presentation, the kids were separated into teams where they were tasked with crafting their own level under a one hour time limit.

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Playing through one of the kid-designed levels, I got stuck trying to get past a series of platforms, Koopa Troopers, and Bloopers. "The green pipe," said a child that helped to create the course.

A green pipe I neglected to enter into at the start of the course led to a room containing not only a mushroom, but a Cape Feather and a Yoshi--all tools I needed to make it to the end. When crafting the course, it was clear the children had a specific plan and thought process. They were implementing fundamental design concepts.

Super Mario Maker is a fitting tool to cultivate future game designers. With over 6 million courses currently uploaded online, thousands of gamers young and old have already been inspired by the game's emphasis on creation. Nintendo hoped that the event would spread that message of creation even further.

"[The event] is about sparking creativity in kids, helping them understand that level design is a way for them to be creative, and a way for them to express themselves," said Ellis.

Within San Francisco, the Public Library is a facility well-known for fostering digital learning. In a space known as The Mix, kids can come and learn about coding, sound design, and digital tools. Nintendo saw Super Mario Maker as a perfect fit for this space and its educational initiative, so the developer approached them about organizing an event around the game.

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"Super Mario Maker is such a natural game to have in a library environment, something where kids are playing a game where they're not just a consumer but a creator," said Megan Anderson, the library's youth centers manager.

Given Super Mario Maker's easy-to-use interface and streamlined design, it wouldn't be a stretch to see the game widely used as a starting point for children to learn game design. But it's up to Nintendo for that to become a reality. The company currently has no official plans for further educational events, but it is open towards the possibility of more after reflecting on this one. Regardless of what happens, (after all, we're expecting to hear more about Nintendo's move to a new console soon), Super Mario Maker has shown the developer's willingness to embrace unique gameplay opportunities, and places to experience them.

If you're interested in playing the levels made at the event, you can find them with this course code: E02B-0000-020F-B9DA.

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