Making a game for my 3 year old

Just about 12 years ago I started dabbling with this game making framework called XNA. My freshman year roommate told me about this Microsoft program called Dreamspark which included this framework to make games you could put on your Xbox360. It just about blew my mind. I had no idea people could just make a game. That same roommate also turned me on to the indie gaming scene (right at the cusp of its arrival) with games like Super Meatboy and Braid. All of this completely changed my outlook on what I wanted to do with my career. I later pivoted again out of games and into web, but the idea of making my own game truly changed my life.

Fast forward from then to now and I'm 31 and married with two daughters. My oldest, Emma, is 3 and always wants to play games with me. She knows it's a thing I like to do with my friends and she wants to take part. I love that shes interested and plan on teaching her some coding as she gets a little older. But most games are too difficult for her to get anywhere in. She digs the first screen of Shovel Knight but always falls in the first pit (also can't hit attack and jump or jump and move smoothly yet). Shes basically struggling with figuring out how a controller works, but still likes playing games with her pops. Animal Crossing was the first signal to me that she was ready to actually play them so long as it was a thing we did together. She could actually walk around in that game with me which was basically all she wanted to do. It's been a lot of fun to play AC (she calls it "The Fishing Game") with her even if we aren't doing all that much for progress. Just exploring this little world together.

So I thought I might help foster both her ability to play games with me (selfishly) and her desire to create her own things by making her a game. It's a simple platformer with no loss state and some simple hearts to collect. It's single player (so I can actually finish it) but we only play with her sitting on my lap and we talk about it as we play. She's seeing the steps as they happen, knows I'm working on it by typing in code, she's play-testing, and even poking around in the level editor and playing her own levels that she "draws"! It has been a blast for me, reinvigorating the gamedev energy I've been lacking since the release of Shinobi Underworld. I've also really loved sharing the process of working on games as well as the early versions of things with Emma.


The game is called Emma's Secret Mission, an allusion to a game we play IRL where we sneak around the house, usually to get snacks.


If any of you out there have young kids interested in games who don't realize they can work on their own game, please share gamedev with them. I can't imagine what I would be doing now if I had known in middle school you could make those flash games we used to play. It may seem obvious that someone had to be making them but it never crossed my mind as a kid that I could make them. And if not games, then music, or other arts. Anything your kid loves to consume, try to show them how to create it and see what sticks. That's my take anyway.

The game page has instructions on loading your own levels (this will 100% require the adult to get into the debug menu). This was mostly intended to help in fostering kids ability to make their own levels!

And if you just want a simple game for your little bud to sit with you and play, feel free to try out Emma's Secret Mission!

Andrew Napierkowski

Professional Software Engineer | Hobbyist Game Developer