Video games are a great way to learn how to do math because they're interactive, said Keith Devlin, Stanford University mathematician and NPR's "Math Guy," in an interview with Forbes.
Devlin is a co-founder of InnerTube Games, which launched the puzzle game Wuzzit Trouble on iOS yesterday. It tasks players with turning gears to solve puzzles, and although it isn't overtly educational, players learn arithmetic by solving the puzzles.
"Mathematics is an activity," Devlin told Forbes. "It's not stuff you know, it's things you do (and can do). Natural selection equipped us supremely well to learn actions by actually doing them. [...] If designed suitably, video games are activity simulators with a dopamine reward system. When someone plays any game, they are learning something. The challenge for the math educator is to make that learning be about doing mathematics."
As you can see in the trailer above, maxing out your score on each puzzle requires you to think mathematically to minimize the number of moves you need to solve it. But the game doesn't present you with any arithmetic symbols like multiplication signs, even though you need to know that four times five is 20 to solve the final puzzle in the video.
"Video games are a much better representation system for learning mathematics than are symbolic representations on a static page," Devlin continued. "If the technology had been available in 350 BCE, Euclid's Elements would have been a video game. All Euclid's arguments are instructions to perform actions: draw an arc, drop a perpendicular, circumscribe the square, etc. It would be much more efficient, both as a communicative medium and for the student learning, if instead of writing instructions in words, the student was presented with opportunities to perform those actions."
InnerTube plans to expand the offering of puzzles in Wuzzit Trouble with different sets of varying difficulty that are targeted at particular age groups (for now, the studio says the game is suitable for ages 8 to 80). The company also wants to add a data back-end to help teachers and researchers use the game. Wuzzit Trouble is a free download on the iTunes App Store.