DLNET Conference 2021: Engaging Families through Videogames: Game Making with Free Tools & Resources

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Lisa Peter


Leah Dungay is the Learning Officer at the National Videogame Museum, in Sheffield. She is an experienced museum educator and outreach professional specialising in STEAM and History. During the pandemic, she ran the NVM at Home Workshops and Pixelheads Virtual Summer Club for families and young people at home. These won the ‘Best Website Activity’ from Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museums Award 2020 and the ‘Community Visionary’ Award from MCV Develop.



Engaging Families through Videogames: Game Making with Free Tools & Resources


Over lockdown and in support of our crucial fundraising efforts, the National Videogame Museum launched a series of workshops, livestreams and resources that aimed to get families and young people making games at home. In my role as Learning Officer, I was challenged with minimal budget, so these programmes utilised free online game making tools, that require no coding experience to get started. These tools allow young people to develop new skills in art and design, creative writing, coding and more.

It was crucial to take into account that access to technology and videogames varies greatly, and this became even more evident during lockdown as many struggled to access the tech they needed for remote learning or work. So in developing these activities I wanted to ensure that the game making tools we utilised were almost entirely free and accessible on various forms of technologies (including laptops, tablets, phones, pen and paper), as well as being easy to learn how to use. 

At the museum, we get many questions about engaging with young people who have a keen interest in playing videogames. For many over the pandemic, videogames were important forms of entertainment and social life, but they are also a fantastic tool to explore a wide range of subjects with young people. Consider all the elements that go into developing a videogame – from the art and design, the animation, the music, voice acting and performance, the computing and coding, the engineering, storytelling and creative writing – as well as the teamwork and collaboration that is needed to bring all those elements together. 

Even so, we do recognise that for many, making videogames can seem potentially quite a difficult task. Whilst this can certainly be true, there are many easy to use tools that can get you started making your own games (and running game based activities) – even with no prior experience or coding knowledge. Creating videogames can be an excellent creative outlet and skill building activity for all ages – and is in many ways easier than you might think. 

Here are some of the online game-making tools that we’ve used in our Learning Programmes to get you started: 


Platform: Piskel, www.piskelapp.com

Description: Free online editor for creating animated sprites & pixel art. 

Key Themes: Art & Design, Pixel Art, Animation

We have used piskel in many workshops – but in particular we learn how to create and animate videogame characters –  in that activity we also look at the history of characters like Mario, exploring how technical limitations helped shape the characters we know and love today. It can also be adapted to explore a range of topics – as well as exploring changes in technology, we use it to explore creative writing and character design, representation and identity. 


Platform: Twine, www.twinery.org 

Description: Free open-source tool for creating and telling interactive, nonlinear stories.

Key Themes: Creating Writing, Literacy, Storytelling, Branching Narratives. 

At the NVM we often highlight the importance of creative writing and storytelling in videogame development and using Twine, we’re able to get people creative and interested in reading and writing, as well as learning how to code and create a videogame!


Platform: Bitsy, www.ledoux.itch.io/bitsy 

Description: Online Game Making Tool 

Key Themes: Game Design, Storytelling 

Like Twine and Piskel, Bitsy is another free game-making tool. It is browser based, and the creator has just developed a mobile version. It lets you put together whole games, with levels, dialogues and animation – It has a simple pixel art style that can be used in really unique ways. 


3 Key Takeaways for Running Game-Making Activities: 


  • Don’t worry about knowing everything before you start and be willing to learn from young people!

  • Create clear and simple instructions for getting started with a new game making platform or activity. 

  • Game making can be a group activity – explore collaboration and get everyone involved (grown ups included).


Take a look at Leah’s slide deck here.


Watch Leah’s presentation from the day on the DLNET YouTube channel below:


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