'Minecraft' add-on helps you learn programming while you play

Tetris in LearnToMod

Programming languages can be daunting to learn, especially if you're a kid who'd rather be playing games than creating them. Thankfully, ThoughtSTEM has found a way to make coding both accessible and entertaining in one shot. Its upcoming LearnToMod software teaches you how to write JavaScript code by producing Minecraft mods that are appropriate to your skill level. If you're just starting out, you can use building blocks of code that produce simple-yet-fun features, such as a bow that shoots teleporters. Advanced students, meanwhile, can write in raw JavaScript and produce content that you wouldn't think was possible in Minecraft's cuboid universe, such as a Tetris mini-game.

The system also includes plenty of motivators, in case the gameplay itself isn't enough. There are more than 100 lessons with video tutorials, badges for accomplishing certain tasks and private servers that let you show projects to your friends. You can even get credit at the University of California in San Diego, if you're pursuing a programming degree. While only 150 students are testing LearnToMod now, you can pre-order it for $30 ahead of its wider October launch -- a bit late for back-to-school, but just fine if you're hoping to get your feet wet.