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Youth Computing - 21st Century Literacy

Sometimes called "Digital Natives", today's youth are steeped in computerized technology - cell phones, handheld gaming systems, portable media players, social websites, and gaming consoles are just a few of the devices available to our children. Viewed by some as 21st century literacy, these digital technologies enable information access and social dynamics unlike those from just one generation ago.

Many young people want to engage this digital multimedia space in a creative way - they want to make content in addition to consuming it. Multimedia takes many forms - games, video, websites, music, animation, photography, and more. Multimedia production also takes many forms - graphics and sound authoring environments, programming interfaces, media editing systems, and distribution mechanisms. How can they get started?

Education of a Multimedia Master:

The following sections listed in order of complexity - beginners should start at the beginning of each list.

Computer Programming

  1. Scratch Programming - developed and maintained at MIT, Scratch provides a fantastic introduction to programming, animation, and interactivity concepts.
  2. Processing - developed originally at MIT, Processing is designed to promote software literacy in the visual arts. Processing is designed for ease of use and flexibility. It can be extended with Arduino
  3. Python, Ruby, or Lua - these are high level OOP (Object Oriented Programming) languages which implement simple syntax backed by extensive code libraries.
  4. C#, JavaFlex(AS3) - mid level languages often used for network application development. Microsoft's XNA game development suite is based on C#.
  5. C and C++ - the de-facto low level languages. C and C++ are used for high performance components and applications. Code::Blocks, Eclipse, and Visual Studio Express from Microsoft are good development environments.
  6. PHP and MySQL - web programming languages. PHP and MySQL require intermediate programming knowledge. Install WAMP or LAMP to use these.

Graphics and Animation

  1. Pivot - free - Windows - Pivot is a stick figure animation software designed for learning the basics of character animation.
  2. Pencil - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - Pencil is a traditional 2D animation software.
  3. - free - browser - FotoFlexer is a free web-based image editor with a long list of features and a very straightforward user interface.
  4. GIMP - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a robust image editor featuring many advanced tools.
  5. Inkscape - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - Inkscape is an open source illustration software.
  6. OpenOffice Draw - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - a component of the powerful open source OpenOffice.
  7. Flash - commercial - Windows, Mac (IDE) - Windows, Mac, Linux (browser plugin) - Flash IDE is a complex 2D vector animation and interactivity authoring system.
  8. Blender - free - Windows, Mac, Linux, etc - Blender is an open source 3D animation software with an integrated game engine. Blender boasts many of the same features found in advanced film production software.

Game Development

  1. Scratch Programming - free - Windows, Mac - (see above). The Scratch engine is designed to make game creation accessible to kids and non-programmers. The scripting system and graphics are simplified yet powerful. One great feature of scratch is the ability to share projects through their community website. This is a fantastic starting point for anybody interested in game development.
  2. Unity3D - free - Windows, Mac - Unity is a robust and flexible realtime engine with excellent features, a built-in editor, fantastic content support, and a very lively online community. As of version 2.6, the free version of Unity includes most engine features (the commercial version unlocks a few advanced rendering and development features). This engine is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  3. Processing - free - Windows, Mac - (see above). Processing is built on the Java programming language, but employs it's own simplified syntax. One of the design goals of Processing is to enable program "sketching" - small scale experiments in interactivity and graphics programming.
  4. Alice - free - Windows, Mac - maintained by Carnegie Melon University, Alice is an interactive storytelling engine designed to teach computer science concepts to beginners. It features a visual logic editor and lots of built-in content.
  5. Panda3D - free - Windows, Mac - also maintained by Carnegie Melon University, Panda3D is realtime 3D game engine designed make game development more accessible to students.
  6. PyGame - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - PyGame is a set of game development libraries for the Python programming language. Built on Python's simple syntax and powerful features, PyGame is another great choice for those interested in exploring interactive systems.
  7. Blender - free - Windows, Mac, Linux, etc - (see above). In addition to a feature rich 3D animation toolset, Blender also contains a built-in game engine with support for many advanced features such as realtime physics and a python scripting interface.
  8. XNA - free - Windows - XNA is the game development kit provided by Microsoft for developing XBOX Live Arcade games. Content created with XNA can be shared via the XBOX Live community or sold via the XBOX Live marketplace.


  1. Audacity - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - Audacity is a feature rich audio recording/editing software.

Web Design & Development

  1. Kompozer - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - Kompozer is a combination WYSIWYG editor and code editor with integrated FTP functionality
  2. WAMP or LAMP - free - Windows, Mac, Linux - WAMP and LAMP are web server bundles which automate the installation and configuration of the popular Apache/MySQL/PHP web technologies. Highly recommended for any web development.


  1. - free - browser - is a web-based video editing and sharing system with an online community. Warning - Some User Submitted Content May Offend.
  2. Wax - free - Windows - Wax is a powerful Non Linear Editing software with many advanced features
  3. AviSynth - free - Windows - AviSynth is a powerful script driven video post production system


It is worth mentioning that many Apple computers come with the iLife software suite preinstalled (it can also be purchased separately). iLife includes, photo, video, audio, dvd, and web content creation tools. These softwares are generally good if limited.


The Adobe product line represents the industry standard for commercial multimedia production. Their software suites include applications for working with photo, illustration, audio, animation, interactive, effects, video, web, and print content. These software bundles retail for well over $1000.