Game Design From Outer Space

Kano is a mini computer specially made for kids, which aims to teach how computers work and how to learn the basics of coding. And that’s really important.


Kano: a Kit for Kids

At the end of 2013, a group of Brit developers/hackers started a Kickstarter to make Kano a reality. What’s Kano? It’s a mini computer specially made for kids and schools, which aims to teach how a computer works and how to learn the basics of coding. The project asked for 100000$ to start, but it ended with more than a million and a half dollars.

What is it about?

Kano is actually a bundle of open source products brought together in order to build a learning path spread among six difficulty levels (hey, like in a game!). Inside Kano you may find:

  • A Raspberry Pi minicomputer, the revolutionary computer-in-a-circuit-board started, among the others, by David Braben, the creator of Elite.
  • A custom Linux distribution which puts all the learning material under a nice and simple interface.
  • Scratch, the visual coding tool born in MIT.
  • PyGame, a Python-based coding framework.
  • Minecraft, a game that… COME ON! It’s fricking Minecraft, you should know it.
  • Two illustrated books explaining all the projects and activities.
  • Accessories like case, speaker, wireless module, cables and keyboard. A pretty cool keyboard!
Kano keyboard

Cool keyboard above!

Every piece of software and the books (PDFs) will be available for free on the Kano website. And if you add the cost of a Raspberry Pi computer (about €35), well, you’ll find this stuff can be a no-brainer for teachers and parents.

Everything should be ready somewhere in April, even though we won’t see the boxed kit before July. But right now you can access a web demo based on Pong, the “Hello, World!” of game developers. And you can even win a Kano by hacking the code! Cool.

Why Is This Important?

Well, it is. We need stuff like that. When I was a kid, computer science was like the coolest thing you could learn, and I was barely seven when I asked my parents for a Spectrum computer. I was somehow convinced that I could write my own games just by writing instructions in the machine (which is quite true, it’s just a bit different than I imagined). I skimmed through some books and programming magazines, trying to make something (no Internet to help, yup!). And in some time I was eventually able to create my very first game (lousy as hell, but hey, it was a start).

Today the first contact between kids and technology happens mostly through tablets and smartphone. Often used just like TV-watching and music-listening devices. They are just magic screens for kids, being them closed systems. Kids rarely think about that as creative instruments. The risk is to turn the so-called digital natives in mere users. That’s bad.

So Kano is important because it shows kids that technology is something at their service, that can be used to actually make something. And it does this through games, because games are not only really interesting for youngsters, but also because they’re specially complex pieces of software, able to enhance logic and problem-solving skills.

So, What?

I’m not buying the current rhetoric of everyone should learn how to code. I understand that the future is going to require us more diverse competences and a very plastic mind. This stuff is not necessarily a consequence of being able to code.

But I’m convinced that computer science should be taught as soon as possible, so kids have one more instrument to understand an important part of the world. Kano is just one of the first steps in that direction. But it is a decisive one. Good luck, Kano.