As some might know I’m quite an avid gamer (but lately have less time, still have to finish Witcher 3). I wrote about my best 2014 games before and also about games in maths education. This is an invited lecture I gave at Winchester School of Arts about narratives in games.
This is a translation of a review that appeared a while back in Dutch in the journal of the Mathematical Society (KWG) in the Netherlands. I wasn’t able to always check the original English wording in the book.
Computer games for Maths
Christian Bokhove, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Recently, Keith Devlin (Stanford University), known of his newsletter Devlin’s Angle and popularisation of maths, released a computer game (app for the iPad) with his company Innertubegames called Wuzzit Trouble (http://innertubegames.net/). The game purports to, without actually calling them that, address linear Diophantine equations and build on principles from Devlin’s book on computer games and mathematics (Devlin, 2011) in which Devlin explains why computer games are an ‘ideal’ medium for teaching maths in secondary education. In twelve chapters the book discusses topics like street maths in Brasil, mathematical thinking, computer games, how these could contribute to the learning of maths, and concludes with some recommendations for successful educational computer games. The book has two aims: 1. To start a discussion in the world of maths education about the potential for games in education. 2. To convince the reader that well designed games will play an important role in our future maths education, especially in secondary education. In my opinion, Devlin succeeds in the first aim simply by writing a book about the topic. The second aim is less successful.
Firstly, Devlin uses a somewhat unclear definition of ‘mathematical thinking’.: at first it’s ‘simplifying’, then ‘what a mathematician does’, and then something else yet again. Devlin remains quite tentative in his claims and undermines some of his initial statements later on in the book. Although this is appropriate it doesweaken some of the arguments. The book subsequently feels like a set of disjointed claims that mainly serve to support the main claim of the book: computer games matter. A second point I noted is that the book seems very much aimed the US. The book describes many challenges in US education that, in my view, might be less relevant for Europe. The US emphasis also might explain the extensive use of superlatives like an ‘ideal medium’. With these one would expect a good support of claims with evidence. This is not always the case, for example when Devlin claims that “to young players who have grown up in era of multimedia multitasking, this is no problem at all” (p. 141) or “In fact, technology has now rendered obsolete much of what teachers used to do” (p. 181). Devlin’s experiences with World of Warcraft are interesting but anecdotical and one-sided, as there are many more types of games. It also shows that the world of games changes quickly, a disadvantage of a paper book from 2011.
Devlin has written an original, but not very evidenced, book on a topic that will become more and more relevant over time. As avid gamer myself I can see how computer games have conquered the world. It would be great if mathematics could tap into a fraction of the motivation, resources and concentration it might offer. It’s clear to me this can only happen with careful and rigorous research.
Devlin, Keith. (2011). Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning.
My five best games of 2014
Some might know I’m an avid gamer. MY best five games (ok ok I smuggled in more) I played in 2014 are:
South Park: The Stick of Truth
This an excellent, basically, adventure-meets-RPG game. The originators of South Park had a hand in this and it shows. The game basically is an interactive, whole series worth of South Park material.
This was presented as a blockbuster A* game and after some tweaking I got it working well enough on my PC. The open world game clearly adopted elements from Grand Theft Auto but I particularly liked the ‘hacking’ twist: several times I raised the bridges while racing across them. There was a lot to do about the ‘dumbed down’ graphics after demos at the E3 conference, but as I have a PC: no problem.
Alien: Isolation (I think the gamespot 6 is unfair)
After the disappointment of AlienS: Colonial Marines this title does one of the best SciFi movies ever justice. The game is not so much a First Person Shooter but more an atmospheric ‘stealth’ game. Especially the sections where you have to evade the xenomorph are gripping and tense. I recorded the end (spoiler!):
Far Cry 4 (still finishing this one)
This basically is Far Cry 3 all over again but in a new (and gorgeous) environment, new animals (rhinos, elephants) and the same, excellent gameplay.
Everything from Telltale: The Wolf Among Us, Season 2 of the Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones
This is just a whole category of games, with very limited and simple gameplay. But that’s ok because the games are ‘story-driven’. The stories are captivating. Choices made in the game influence the subsequent events in the game.
Note that I couldn’t include Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Dragon Age: Inquisition because they simply didn’t work well (enough) on my system. Other notable games are Shadow of Mordor and -for the kids but also enjoyable- LEGO Lord of the Rings and Minecraft 😉