Zachtronics’ newest game, Exapunks, is an advanced educational coding game available on Steam and is recommended for ages 13 and up (as it requires players to already have an understanding of programming operations, or at least a strong desire to learn them). The game presents a narrative scenario where the player must take on a series of hacking challenges as an “exapunk”, or a hacker who uses “exa” programs to accomplish various tasks on computer networks. The game does contain some mature themes, and while there is minimal profane language, an option within the settings menu allows profanity to be toggled on or off. The player’s character’s motivation to continue hacking is to pay for lifesaving medication, and the setting is a kind of grim “cyberpunk-lite” where corporations dominate everyday life.
The coding is simple at first, progresses quickly, and has a number of constraints for players to learn about in the provided digital/printable 21-page manual.
This game is an engaging way to teach advanced computational thinking skills and presents the coding problems spatially so that players can develop their programming knowledge concurrently with their spatial reasoning skills. The game encourages players to use the provided manual to learn more about the Exapunks coding language in order to solve problems, and then to create a solution over several iterations that fulfills the criteria perfectly. Players are not discouraged when their solution does not work on the first try and can easily step through their code to find and correct issues.
Overall, Exapunks is not only an excellent teaching tool that fulfills almost every aspect of engineering thinking and design, but an example of a game development studio that cares for its audience and understands the importance of a diverse cast, a relevant narrative, and the use of effective graphic design to make the learning of an important complex skill more intuitive.
Related Link: http://www.zachtronics.com/exapunks/