Games with Programming Elements Disguised as Gameplay

Learning to code takes determination and time. 

At its most basic level, programming has you learning to use computer language to issue commands and create schedules.

Some games take this concept and run with it. The games in this article don’t require that you can outright code professionally, but many do introduce concepts that have you issuing commands, understanding inputs and outputs, and how optimization can lead to improvements in efficiency.

Here are some games you should check out if programming interests you in any way.


TIS-100 is a programming game that tasks you with rewriting corrupted code segments in an effort to unlock the secrets of the Tessellated Intelligence Systems computer terminal named TIS-100.

In TIS-100, the gameplay is largely open-ended but has 45 specific puzzles for you to complete. You can even play against other people. By completing tasks, you reveal the inner working of the TIS-100, including gaining insights into its data stream processes, financial trading, data collection, and civilian behavioral analysis. 

One aspect of the game that may throw you is the printable reference manual. To complete the game, you will need to reference this included manual at various intervals. For novices, this can feel overwhelming when compared to other games that include tutorials and walkthroughs.

If you aren’t familiar with computer languages or programming, the game can feel daunting. Despite this, you will pick up on the gameplay over time. Likewise, math is only involved in that there is some basic arithmetic. But some have equated the game to something more like Sudoku than Calculus.

After completing the game, you won’t suddenly be a master programmer, but you will have a better grasp of how computers “think.”

Quadrilateral Cowboy

In Quadrilateral Cowboy, a cyberpunk heist game, you use a 56.6k modem and a computer with 256k of ram to hack doors, security systems, and computers. You also have a tiny robot and a suitcase with a gun, but that’s only one part of the game.

The most important aspect of the game is the command-line language. You will use this to set up commands, similar to a programming language. By inputting increasingly complex commands, you will solve the game’s puzzles and rank up through the leaderboards.

If you are looking for an action game, it is unlikely that this game will satisfy you. As a hacker in real life, you are at the mercy of your computer to control everything. Thankfully, the game is snappy. Heists are not overly long. And each mission can be completed in around 10 minutes.

What this game does well is that it introduces the idea of using programming to set up commands to take place at a future time and in a sequence.


Factorio is like most any RTS game. You play a character who has crash landed on an unknown planet. Around you are resources. You begin by collecting stone and coal, and later metals and oil. But you quickly discover that things are far more complex than you realized, if you want them to be.

Factorio sees you researching technologies, building infrastructure, and, most importantly, automating production. The automation aspects are where understanding logistics help. 

With each new technology, you need an increasingly more diverse set of resources. However, to build these resources, like microchips, you need to run raw resources through factories. These supply chains have different completion times and need to be routed efficiently around the level.

While all of this is going on, you will be dealing with enemies who are attracted by all of the activity. 

Of any game on this list, Factorio is the most similar to traditional action-RTS games. You can even play with friends online. While you don’t need to be a programmer to play the game, understanding how to scope a project and scale it up using logic is essential.


Infinifactory looks and feels inspired by Minecraft, but with a far greater emphasis on the building and automation side of things. This sandbox puzzle game sees you tasked with building products for your alien overlords, while you try to survive at the same time.

The primary challenge of the game is to identify problems, then build machines, and optimize them over time. There is a story-driven campaign with more than 50 puzzles to complete, audio logs to discover, and a lot more!

To keep the game interesting beyond what’s included in the game, access the steam workshop to create, share, and play user-created puzzles. 

If you enjoy working through difficult tasks, problem solving, and optimization of machines, you will find there is a lot of enjoyment in Infinifactory.

Final Thoughts

These games use a variety of mechanics that mimic those found in programming. Each of them is inspired by the challenges that programmers face each day. While they don’t require outright coding, the concept is similar and may be useful if you want to get into programming or you are a programmer looking for a challenge.