I get asked this question all of the time in many, many different contexts, from elementary school children who play our games, to game developers who are not involved in education.
There are multiple questions for this, but let me answer the grown-ups first.
I care so much about math because I really mean it when I talk about the importance of education in our games.
It really matters to me if people learn or not. I spent a good part of today on one activity on reducing a fraction to its lowest terms. I explained why we would want to do that and gave an example. Then, there is a mini-game where you can practice and every match reveals another part of a hidden picture.
Will this one activity teach the concept of lowest terms? Nope, probably not.
However, add up enough of these explanations, the video clip that explains lowest terms, the other practice pages, the web pages that explain lowest terms and eventually a person will grasp the concept.
Earlier in the game, I noted that a quiz someone had created went from one concept – reading the height of a bar – to another – solving addition and subtraction problems using a bar graph. So, I added hints to the problems with addition and subtraction. If you are moving on to a new topic, you should give the student the option of learning it before being tested. If the player already knows that information, then he or she can skip the hint.
This is a problem I see over and over – people who write software were generally good at math as kids,so there is a lot of hand-waving, “Oh, they’ll get it.”
Maybe. One thing I know from having taught for many years is that people vary. Some people WILL get it and some will need a hint. Some will need more than that. I understand that I am writing some hints and explanations that will only be seen by 10% of the players or less.
Maybe only 40% will miss the math challenge on the loose chickens (trust me, this relates to equivalent fractions). Of that 40%, maybe only 30% will ever choose the practice mini-game activity, and out of that 12% (.30 x .40 = .12) , history shows that only 1/2 will click on the hint. Still, those 6% of the players probably need help the most.
Why do I worry about the math so much? Because I believe that everybody matters, including that 6%.