Game Design Hackathon Makes Computer Science More Accessible

The two-day event, hosted by Havercode and the Haverford Innovations Program, broadened the scope of who can participate in coding and program design.

On Friday, Feb. 9, students from a wide range of disciplines met in VCAM to participate in the Game-Development Mini-Hackathon, hosted by Havercode. The event, which ran until noon on Saturday, invited students with varying levels of coding experience to write, design, develop, and playtest games.

In a typical hackathon, teams of coders and designers create and develop programs to achieve a common goal. Building on the success of the annual Tri-Co Hackathon, members of Havercode have worked closely with the Haverford Innovations Program (HIP) to continue the tradition of bringing together designers and coders at Haverford. This time, however, the directors sought to create a different type of event.

“Many of the computer science events in the Greater Philadelphia area, and the hackathons that I hosted, were centered around solving large-scale societal issues,” says mini-hackathon co-organizer Wahub Ahmed ’25. While hackathons are a great opportunity for those with enough experience to experiment and develop their skills, he’s noticed that the high-speed nature of such events often inadvertently excludes less-experienced coders. 

In an effort to make computer science more inclusive, Ahmed says he helped design the event with the beginner in mind.

“This year’s mini-hackathon was designed to be a low-time commitment, beginner-friendly, and centered around gaming to make the experience more enjoyable,” he says. “We had resources for beginner programmers and those who did not know how to code to assist students of different backgrounds.”

The effort was successful. Among the participating students were not just computer scientists but graphic designers, storytellers, and gaming enthusiasts from across the campus.

Ahmed Haj Ahmed ’26, a fellow computer science major and co-director of the event, notes that shifting the focus to gaming allows for unique perspectives on issues — both within and beyond computer science — while retaining the collaborative and creative energy of previous hackathons.

“It allowed participants to dive deep into the nuances of game development, from storytelling and character design to coding and user experience, setting it apart from the more generalized tech themes of past hackathons,” Haj Ahmed says. “We also wanted to explore how games can go beyond entertainment, addressing themes like mental health, education, and social justice, inspired by recent successes in the industry that have used gaming platforms to raise awareness on various issues.”

Haj Ahmed notes that the aim of focusing on a broader set of topics was well received and reflected in the arcade-themed final projects participants developed.

“The participants brought back the classic arcade feel with a variety of games, like side-scrollers, but with a modern touch,” he said. “They managed to blend that nostalgic arcade charm with new elements and innovative scoring systems.”

Both co-directors were thrilled with the event’s reception. They both note the palpable excitement among participants and how much they learned and gained from guiding and teaching the basics of game development.

“Collaboration is not just between participants but between myself and everyone else involved in this process,” Ahmed notes. “This hackathon embodies the Haverfordian spirit of the student body.”

Shayna Nickel, HIP’s associate program director, was excited to continue working with Havercode to provide computer science educational opportunities to the student body.

“The creativity and work that comes out of hackathons is always impressive,” she says, “and I look forward to continuing to have these opportunities for students.”