June 26, 2014 9:00 AM | Lena LeRay
Educational games are some of the hardest to make. It's difficult to balance fun with educational, especially if you want to be able to put the game into classrooms. Teachers need to be able to somehow measure students' progress to be sure that any games they use are furthering their classroom goals. Mathbreakers from Imaginary Number Co., which has already been tested with kids in classrooms, turns mathematical concepts into game systems with visual feedback that children can experiment with so that they internalize those concepts.
Objects that students can interact with have numbers on them, positive or negative. Combining two objects adds their numbers together on a new, single object, and making an object's number zero makes it disappear. Players also have a fractions sword, which can cut a single object into two objects, each with a number half the size of the original object's number. This extends not just to spheres the player can pick up and barriers they can remove, but also to enemies; every enemy has a number, and only by zeroing the enemy out does it go away (leaving behind a pile of unnumbered parts like spikes and eyes that roll around on the floor).
The environments are being designed with other cause and effect loops, such as platforms whose height is affected by a numbered sphere embedded in the base which can be switched out. Imaginary Number Co. is confident that this explorable sort of math environment will allow them to include math concepts from more advanced branches such as calculus in ways that kids can comprehend. Along the way, they're complementing this with non-math exploratory platforming, starting in the first level with a platform that must be dropped down on from above but can't be easily seen until the player has moved a bit farther along in the level.
Mathbreakers has endorsement from math and education teachers all the way up to the college level (and some excited kids in the video) for its educational value. Having played the first level, which only covers addition, I can say with confidence that you don't have to be a kid to enjoy the game, either. This is a game that gamer parents will be able to play with their kids confident in the idea that doing so will improve the kids' grasp of math concepts through internalization and natural learning through play. They've been experimenting with a few more advanced concepts already, including a Turing-complete train that works off of 1 and 0 spheres in the train cars.
Imaginary Number Co. is seeking $42,000 for continued development of the game, and are up to just over $28,000 raised with nine days to go at time of this writing. A copy of the game, which includes access to the current build once the Kickstarter finishes, is obtainable for as little as $25, with a 2-pack available for $42.