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Itching to code? These are the best games to learn programming skills

CheckiO screenshot
(Image credit: CheckiO)

Many of us would like to learn to program, but are daunted. It turns out programming is not really difficult at all once you’ve got the trick of it (really!). 

But, there’s a lot of knowledge to gain before you, the student, can be anything but utterly confused. It can be painful. If only there existed some gentler way to smuggle programming knowledge into your head.

Thankfully, there are some great games out there that can teach you how to code, while also being fun. Read on to find out our pick. Also, make sure you check out our guide on the best laptops for programming on for some great choices to help you code.

CodinGame screenshot

(Image credit: CodinGame)

1. CodinGame

CodinGame has a very special place in our hearts because not only is it free and ridiculously fun, it actually helps you to build up a profile and get hired in a relevant field. In this it’s similar to well-known sites like Leetcode and HackerRank, except a lot more effort has been put into presenting the education as a game.

Create your developer profile, which fills out the more you code and play. When you’re ready, you can open it up to companies of your choice and perhaps get hired doing what you love.

So, try out CodinGame, you won’t regret it.

Gladiabots screenshot

(Image credit: WhisperGames)

2. Gladiabots - AI Combat arena

Ah, strategy and programming; what more could you ask for? Developed by GFX47 and published by WhisperGames, Gladiabots is an award-winning robot combat strategy game.

In it, you fight robots with robots. Instead of controlling them directly, however, you program their AI and let them fight by themselves. Debug, improve and fix your AI ’till it’s able to outsmart your enemies in three unique game modes, Elimination, Domination and Collection.

There’s a single-player campaign, online multiplayer with ranked/unranked modes and an asynchronous multiplayer mode for offline play with friends. There's also a sandbox mode, where you can control both teams.

Grab a copy on Steam for $14.99 (around £13, AU$20) or get 20% off the Optimized Edition, which includes the Optimization Pack for $23 (around £17, AU$31).

CheckiO screenshot

(Image credit: CheckiO)

3. CheckiO

Working with the Javascript and Python programming languages, CheckiO helps you to improve your coding skills through fun tasks, games and challenges.

A similar offering to CodinGame, CheckiO supports everyone from beginner to advanced-level programmers. You must make your way through a series of islands, beginning with “initiation” (very easy challenges). When you beat one, you unlock the next.

While CheckiO is mostly free, it offers a membership package called “Awesome Member”. You can pay monthly for $2.99 (around £2, AU$4) 6-monthly for $14.99 (around £11, AU$20), annually for $24.99 (around £18, AU$34).

Hop on to CheckiO now to learn or improve your coding skills.

Human Resource machine screenshot

(Image credit: Tomorrow Corporation)

4. Human Resource machine

Developed and published by Tomorrow Corporation, Human Resource Machine is a programming puzzle game.

In HRM you have to program office workers to carry out jobs for your boss. Now, while this is a great game for people learning to code, you’ll need a little familiarity with assembly language to make it through alone, otherwise you’ll need to regularly check in with Uncle Google.

Grab your copy for $14.99 (around £11, AU$20) on Steam or spend $26.50 (around £19, AU$36) on the Tomorrow Corporation Puzzle Pack, which is currently 15% off and includes the sequel, 7 Billion Humans

Codewars screenshot

(Image credit: Codewars)

5. Codewars

With more than 20 different programming languages to choose from, Codewars helps you to become a master in coding by solving “code katas”.

Code katas are small programming exercises you repeat regularly to help improve your coding skills. It’s like karate, except instead of exercising you sit unmoving in your chair.

Solving katas will earn you points and move you up in rank. You can compare your solutions to those of other code warriors and create your own katas if you feel confident enough.

So, go take your rank from beginner to expert in Code Wars.

CodeCombat logo

(Image credit: CodeCombat Inc)

6. CodeCombat

While it’s mainly targeted at children, CodeCombat is the type of game that gamers of all ages learning to code would happily play. It looks like a real RPG, where you can pick a character and program moving them through each level.

Choose from Python (the default language), Lua, Javascript, and CoffeeScript. If you’re a subscriber you can use Java, or brave C++.

It even has its own competitive league with CodeCombat AI League, which is a game engine and “AI battle simulator” for learning Javascript and Python.

Code warrior, go forth and do CodeCombat!

Shenzhen I/O screenshot

(Image credit: Zachtronics)

7. Shenzhen I/O

Developed and published by Zachtronics, SHENZHEN I/O is a programming, puzzle and automation game.

You’re an employee at Shenzhen Longteng Electronics Co., Ltd tasked with building circuits. To do this you must use the various components provided to you and execute all your instructions in assembly language used for writing code. Oh, and please RTFM!

There’s a sandbox mode where you can build and test your own device and games. And, being familiar with the hard facts of programming, Zachtronics has kindly included in the game its take on Solitaire.

You can procure a physical copy of the manual for $5 (around £4, AU$5) including shipping. SHENZEN I/O is available on Steam for $15 (around £11.40, AU$20).

General Assembly – Dash screenshot

(Image credit: General Assembly)

8. General Assembly – Dash

General Assembly is a company that provides training in tech, business, design, data and much more. Among the many products GA offers is an online learn-to-code app called Dash.

The app has five different projects for you to create: a personal website, a “responsive blog theme”, a small business website, a CSS robot (a picture of one, at least), and a Madlibs game.

Learn about JavaScript, CSS, HTML and much more. It’s fun, informative and a great place to start if you’re a beginner.

Check out the many courses online and in your area on the GA website and learn to code through Dash.

Duskers screenshot

(Image credit: Misfits Attic)

9. Duskers

Duskers is our wild card of the list, as it’s not quite a programming game, but hear us out.

Developed and published by Misfits Attic, Duskers is an award-winning exploration, realtime tactics game. You have to explore, adapt and survive, using drones to scavenge procedurally-generated spaceships and find ship logs.

So, why is it on our list? It has a command line interface. Yep, that’s it. No, really, that’s it.

A big part of coding – even in the current year – is using a terminal, so this is a great way to familiarize yourself with one. And it’s fun!

Duskers is available on Steam for $20 (around £15 AU$27).

TIS-100 screnshot

(Image credit: Zachtronics)

10. TIS-100 – (Tessellated Intelligence System)

While this is a great game for learning to code, it’s hard. So, keep all breakables out of reach; channel your fury into the game, OK?

TIS-100 is another great offering from Zachtronics. Decipher and rewrite corrupted code to repair the titular TIS-100, a fictional ancient computer. Create your own games in the visual console, or design your own challenges. Compete with friends and players around the world solving over 45 puzzles. And, of course, make sure you Read the Fine Manual.

TIS-100 is available on Steam, GOG, and itch.io for $6.99 (Around £5, AU$10) and IOS for $3.99 (around £3, AU$5).

Rosario Blue

Rosario Blue is a writer, playwright, and freelance journalist. 

She is a Global Goodwill Ambassador for Postcards for Peace.