How to make an “educational” Math game

Dudes, I am not an educator. I taught some classes, yes, but I don’t have formal education on educating. I don’t claim to be an expert on teaching kids.

But I am, to a certain extent, a gamer. But nope, I’m not hardcore. Just a gamer.

My Personal Sad Story

Here’s my personal sad story:

I grew up in a house without a single videogame console. We have shops in the neighborhood where you can play playstation games at 20pesos/hr. My allowance can only let me play a few times per month. I played Mortal Kombat II with friends. The nearest coin op arcade is 4 hours away. And even if it existed next door, I don’t think I could have afforded that either.

My parents think those kind of games are bad for kids and so they kept us away from it. They however bought us a PC. See, they agree that not all games are bad. Games that run on the PC are good. For starters, it taught me how to use the computer (the tool of the futuuure!). I became comfortable in the command line, MS-DOS era. As for the actual games, the games my parents let us play on the PC really were educational.

They bought us two kinds of games. The ones that were meant to be educational, (“Let’s Learn Math”, “Spelling Bee” stuff) vs the regular pc games. Guess which ones I played more and made more impact on my learning.

I played action games, I learn spatial thinking. I played Lucas Arts adventure games, I learned how to read and understand context. I played Civ, I learn about the forms of government long before we discuss it in class.

With the help of emulators I was able to play console games and realize that my parents were wrong on the educational games are exclusively for the PC part. The rest, they were spot on.

Still, I don't know what these are. 😦

Presenting: Educational Games

Fast forward to the present and I read crap like this: Numvaders Press Release

Problem: Filipinos (and implied, the world) think that games are too addictive and this is a bad thing.

Solution: Make a game that is still addictive, but this time makes you learn how to do basic math. A good thing.

Simple counter-argument: Why break a great game like Space Invaders so you can shove your stupid arithmetic homework into an iPhone owning kid?

Follow up counter-argument: Who plays this kind of games?

It’s not only Numvaders. I have seen a lot of these games, coming mostly from the Philippine academia, claiming to be all about edumacating. They seem to think that any software with cartoony graphics is a video game. They have the shallow notion that a kid is more likely to solve a math problem if it is in comic sans and the background is a picture of Disneyland. Yes, this kind of approach to teaching works Sesame Street style but that’s not using the real power of video games and doesn’t contribute anything to the gaming image.

How to make an educational Math game

But how, you ask, will I make a game about Math?

Dudes, let’s take a Space Invaders style game. Let’s say we want kids to know about the four basic arithmetic operations. Most of the arithmetic is already there. You have killing aliens = subtraction. You accumulate points = addition. You have combo multipliers = multiplication. Umm, you can implement division by having special gameplay mechanics, for example, 1/3 of the invaders attack at a time. The whole time the player is blasting aliens, his maths is working. Somewhere between levels the player is thinking: “If the hiscore is 2850pts and I’m at 2400pts how many more level 1 invader should I shoot if a level 1 invader is 50pts a piece?”

Math is represented everywhere in games, you don’t have to try very hard.


Pictured: Math teaching tool

You can make it slightly didactic by adding quests like “Get 5 shots on invaders worth 250pts”. The trick is don’t make the player feel like he/she is doing homework.


Stop making games look bad by trying to make it look good. Also, stop trying to get rich on video games, because then you’ll be doing it wrong.

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