Actually Good Math Computer Games

October 10, 2010

I always go back and forth on video and computer games to learn math. On the one hand, there’s something soporific about staring at a screen, and it feels like you need a kind of thought disengaged from the machine to really get to the deepest kinds of thinking. I’ve long had my doubts whether computer games that promote math practice pay off at all. On the other hand, many kids like playing video games, and if you can get them a game that involves thinking, or practicing math skills at the very least, then why not go for it?

Unfortunately, most “fun” math games just aren’t. They tend to suck. It’s a little like Melinda Gates comparison of nonprofits lackluster performance to Coke’s wild success in the developing world; the for-profit with money on its mind creams the non-profit trying to do good. If your goal is to teach and you just slap the word “fun” on at the end, you end up with garbage. On the other hand, if you’re focused on making a game that’s really good, well, then it is fun. Of course, whether it has any educational value is pretty dubious.

Similarly, you should avoid foods that have to call themselves “food.” If it’s not obvious, you’ve got a problem.

When the actually fun math games come along, it seems only right to spread the word. I just spent a good part of this afternoon playing all the games at They are–practically all of them–fun. Genuinely fun. Not only that, they’re good looking, they play well, and the math involved is compelling. Play Ice, Ice, Maybe, their estimation game, at a high enough level, and it’s quite challenging, and kind of addictive. Flower Power, their ordering game, is quite lovely.

In addition, these folks have the good sense not to say that any of their games are “fun.” They put them out there and let us decide. And lo and behold, they are fun.

Do they work to cement, or even teach, math skills? I don’t have enough data to know for sure, but I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if these games turn out to be a pretty effective way to learn.

And now, I’m going to take another whack at Pyramid Panic.

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