Battlesnake is a fresh take on the old arcade game Snake where players use coding and artificial intelligence to attack other snakes. (Gage Pacifera)

Battlesnake is a fresh take on the old arcade game Snake where players use coding and artificial intelligence to attack other snakes. (Gage Pacifera)

Port Townsend duo teaching kids to code through game

PORT TOWNSEND — When the schools closed in the wake of the spread of COVID-19, Port Townsend “techies” David Ehnebuske and Gage Pacifera took it as an opportunity to engage middle and high school kids with learning how to code, easing parents’ minds about finding educational activities to keep their children busy.

Like Marvels Avengers, Ehnebuske and Pacifera assembled a team of volunteers from the Port Townsend Web Developers meetup group that teaches young people how to create computer programs and compete in a free online game called Battlesnake.

“When I was first introduced to Battlesnake, I found it to be incredibly fun, very approachable for both beginners and more experienced coders and completely addictive,” Pacifera said.

“For those with an inclination toward problem-solving, puzzles and gaming, it’s the kind of thing that you can lose yourself in for many many hours,” he continued. “It’s perfect for bright kids who suddenly have a lot of extra time on their hands.”

Battlesnake is a software created by web developers in Victoria with the idea of making learning how to program and code fun by having people compete in an online version of the classic arcade game Snake.

“It came on to my radar about two years ago and we did some kind of training sessions and battles with the Port Townsend Web Developers group, so we have a little bit of experience doing it there. I had this inkling that I wanted to start a Battlesnake league here in the school system,” Pacifera said.

The Web Developer group meets every Thursday at 1:30 p.m. via Google meet to teach young people how to write code, discuss gameplay strategies and stage matches between players.

Ehnebuske touts the program as an exceedingly quarantine-friendly experience.

“We can do essentially everything online, including the tournament,” Ehnebuske said.

The six-weeks-long program is open to all students grades 6-12 on the Olympic Peninsula and culminates in a tournament on April 23, the day before students are expected to return to school.

Students do well during the tournament could earn a chance to compete on a large Battlesnake Stage in Victoria.

Pacifera and Ehnebuske hope to get the program going within the Jefferson County Library and in school districts this summer.

In the meantime this “quarantine period” — during which only three students are registered so far — will act as a testing ground.

Links to meetings are posted at porttownsend.ai at least 30 minutes before the meetings begin.

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