“I’m just not good at Maths” This is a statement we constantly hear from friends, colleagues, family… Math struggle is not solely a children’s question. Most adults have problems making easy mental calculus, checking the restaurant bill or the correct change. Could Serious Games help end these embarrassing situations? Developer BrainQuake is proving that it is indeed possible with games like Wuzzit Trouble.
“The problem when learning mathematics” explains Dr. Keith Devlin, the brain behind Wuzzit, “is not that people cannot do the mathematics. The problem is that we expect people to learn mathematics by reading symbols on a page. The symbols are getting in the way of learning the mathematics“.
Symbols used in Maths, are abstract ways to represent something real. This means that, as we do when we learn a foreign language, our brain needs to translate those symbols to something meaningful for us before even trying to solve the mathematical problem. The thing is that people is so focused in remembering the symbols that they forgot that Maths are something useful, something that you use every day. So why are Maths never put in a practical context? Why don’t we study them with a real life approach?
My niece is 7 and is already struggling with Maths. She is a brilliant little kid full of ideas and quick to learn. But when faced with easy calculus you can see her puzzled face when she tries to put the symbols in place. If you ask her “How much is 4 plus 7?” she will take a little time to answer. But, if you tell her “Hey! you have 4 stickers but I’m going to give you 7 more!” then she quickly knows she will have 11 shiny stickers in her Frozen album.
“It is a language problem, not a mathematic problem” declares Devlin “and because of this people are completely underestimating their mathematical capacities”.
So how does Wuzzit solve this problem? BrainQuake’s approach is presenting a situation where players need to use mathematics to solve a conflict. The Wuzzits of the title are little colorful aliens that have been captured by an evil presence. Each of them has been confined in a cell and they are willing to escape. You can help them manipulating the gears that control the opening mechanism. Every gear has a number assigned and has to be turned to the right or to the left the right amount of times. The more puzzles you solve, the more difficult they get, leaving chance and trial/error completely out of the equation when solving the challenges.
There is not a unique solution for Wuzzit’s puzzles. Players can manipulate the gears in thousands of different ways but always using their arithmetics skills. The game helps them come up with their own solution at their own path instead of forcing them to just solve addition or subtraction problems when they are told to. Players decide what is needed and why!