Meet the Youngest Video Game Programmer

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A bright young programmer from Philadelphia recently unveiled a video game involving ballerinas, jewels and vampires — sure to be a hit with young girls. The programmer herself also happens to be seven years old.

Zora Ball, a first grader at the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia, created the video game in a class focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics led by Tariq Al-Nasir, who heads the STEMnasium Learning Academy.

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Al-Nasir’s organization uses open-source software called Bootstrap and Alice 2.0 that was originally developed for university-level coursework. While sixth and seventh graders are usually advanced enough to begin learning it, Al-Nasir told me he made the software more accessible with a programming language called Racket.

Once he got them into a this new programming environment, Al-Nasir was essentially teaching math to Ball and her classmates in a fun way. The students designed interactive games involving three elements: a player, a goal and something to avoid, all moving along X and Y coordinates. Then they picked a setting for the game.

For Zora Ball, that meant making the player a ballerina who’s searching for a jewel in a nail salon while trying to avoid a vampire — something she doesn’t like, Al-Nasir said. ”She was obviously very comfortable understanding that the danger is moving on the X and the player will be moving on the Y coordinate,” he added.

The Philadelphia Tribune’s Damon C. Williams called Zora the youngest individual to create a full version of a mobile application video game. Recently Zora demonstrated her skills at Will.i.am’s TRANS4M benefit show in Los Angeles, where she showed the singer a new game she’d made. Will.i.am was the player, microphones were the goal and the danger was a bad note, Al-Nasir explained.

And to think that in first grade my big achievement was making a Guy Smiley puppet with a popsicle stick. Seriously, nice work Zora.

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Next, Al-Nasir said his first grade students are going to be designing more elaborate games based on the Alice programming language and then entering them into a competition. Meanwhile his eighth and ninth grade students are developing an app using Java and C programming called “Let Freedom Ring” in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

If you’re wondering where tomorrow’s version of Angry Birds will come from, keep an eye out for these kids.

Photo: Zora Ball with her ballerina game. Credit: Curtis Ball