Using Serious Games to Teach Math

I had a revelation this morning.  This  occurred while I was copy editing a dry math lesson on graphing systems of inequalities.  The important facts I had in mind at the time of this revelation were:

1) the line or area indicated by an inequality can be graphed using Cartesian coordinates

2) games involve learning and applying of rules

3) people like games

My revelation is as follows: What if the game Battleship, which uses a coordinate grid, was slightly modified to use Cartesian coordinates? What if the learner used equations and inequalities to find and sink the enemy battleships? Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the first person to think of this, as I discovered via Google search. Fortunately for the world, the ball is already rolling on this issue. A maths tutor in UK did a basic version of my idea here: Battleship. In this game, the player enters Cartesian coordinates to bomb enemy ships. This simple program demonstrates how a math skill can be used inside a game.

Gaming theory says that player motivation stems from a desire to do well in the game. Why can’t a player also be a learner? The game provides the player/learner with motivation to learn the rules of the game, in this case, the rules of the Cartesian coordinate system. I found another game that uses the application of linear algebra as well as the rules of Cartesian coordinates, found here: Asteroid Defense. In this game, the player must use equations to guide missiles to destroy an asteroid headed towards Earth.

If we want to make kids in the U.S. interested in math, we need more and better serious games. Personally, I would prefer they did not all involve blowing things up, but I’ll take what I can get in this regard. Sony, Microsoft-start producing games on your amazing, powerful gaming platforms that teach the skills students needs to be successful academically. Get crackin’!