A few months ago, I discovered that an old website, which I used to visit during my childhood days, was back up again. This triggered a bit of nostalgia in me about my experience of learning to code as a kid and how it influenced my life.
“DIV Arena” might not mean much to you, but I’m sure that for quite a few people it was an important part of their life. It used to be the main website where people would upload and discuss games that they made via a program called “DIV Games Studio”.
Like many kids, I used to play a lot of computer games, especially Total Annihilation. That game got me to spend so much time on the computer that it drove my dad crazy. He looked at it as an addiction, probably rightfully, and tried to lure me away from it in creative ways, but only with limited success. I think that eventually he decided to change his approach with the goal of getting me to spend my computer time more productively. That’s when he bought me DIV Games Studio.
As I’ve hinted at above, this was essentially a desktop environment optimised for making your own computer games. It offered a code editor, a graphics drawing program and a programming language, all intended to lower the barrier and teach people how to build games.
I was super excited to start making games, so I tried it out immediately, but I was also twelve and didn’t have a clue about how programming worked. The first time I just started typing a story in the bright blue terminal, thinking that would somehow be translated into a game with graphics and everything.
Disappointed when that didn’t work I asked my dad for help again. He kindly told me that’s not quite how it works. If I wanted to learn to make a video game, I would have to read the manual and learn the programming language. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help me either, because while he did learn some Pascal at some point, that was many many years ago. So I set out to learn programming on my own.
Luckily, DIV came with a manual and a tutorial on how to build a game similar to Space Invaders. The tutorial was reasonably easy to follow, and I was able to build my first game. It definitely took more patience than I’d ever needed before, but I did it and it was satisfying. After that, it became more difficult though, because now there was no more tutorial to guide me. If I wanted to do something new, I was on my own with a dial-up internet connection and a pre-StackOverflow internet. That was hard, and I remember giving up many times when I got stuck, but somehow I always kept coming back and I often found solutions via div-arena.co.uk’s discussion forums. It taught me how to persevere more and how satisfying it could be to build something from scratch while solving all kinds of technical mysteries along the way.
I built a few more simple games, but eventually I kind of lost momentum and didn’t program much for a few years. It’s only when I was 19, while I was studying something not-so-programming-related, that I realized this is what I wanted to do.
Either way, I have a lot to thank DIV Games Studio for, because once I picked up programming again, it was a lot easier for me to get started.