Akin to how tools like Blogger enabled a legion of less html-savy web readers to also become web writers, there has been a recent burst of tools that may encourage less code-savy game players to become game builders.
To paraphrase Seymour Papert, computer programming is the closest thing to thinking about thinking. A similar hypothesis is growing around game design (and play). Games are challenge-based, goal-oriented systems. To play (and win) a game, you must understand the system and the system’s dynamics. Failure is accepted, and in fact expected. To move forward, you must adapt, iterate, and learn. (More detailed post on the theories/literature to follow). Arguably, building games requires an even deeper understanding of (content as) dynamic systems and an engagement in iterative reflection.
Working list of education-related game design tools developed (some focused on teaching programming):
Alice: 3D programming environment developed by Carnegie Mellon for learning introductory programming concepts. Graphics and a drag-and-drop interface facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.
Game Maker: (in version 7) Application with drag and drop system for intuitive game creation. Built-in scripting programming language for more experienced users.
Gamestar Mechanic: (In development) Massively multiplayer online game where players take on the role of Game Mechanics and create their own games to play and share.
Little Big Planet: Playstation Network game with three modes of Play, Create and Share. In particular, the physics engine and level editor enables players to create, destroy, edit and manipulate levels and objects.
Popfly: (Beta) Microsoft free online game and mashup creator.
Playcrafter: Flash based web application that lets anyone create and share custom games with simple drag and drop features.
RPG Maker: Program for users to create role-playing games. Most versions include tile set based map editor, a simple scripting language, and a battle editor.
Scratch: Free software that enables kids (8+) to program interactive creations by snapping together graphical blocks like LEGO® bricks.
Stagecast Creator: Visual programming language allowing kids to construct 2D simulations, animations, and games (Java). Based on the idea of independent characters who represent objects containing logic.
The Games Factory (Klik & Play II): GUI interface lets users create 2D games through a grid-based interface
Toontalk: Computer programming system for children. Presented in the form of animated characters that can be trained by example.
Wild Pockets: (Beta) Web-based platform enabling creation of 3D games in a social way.