My old high school math teacher has started up a math club recently. It's become quite popular (to my pleasant surprise), and I've been looking for ways to contribute. To that end I've been looking to introduce games and/or small programs that allow students to investigate different mathematical areas. A key example of what I'm looking to make (and my first project) is a game version of Euclid's Elements. This is an ideal candidate, because we have
a few simple rules
very visual/experiential proof style
problems are constructions (not "prove this fact is always true") and so students can genuinely learn by progressing through specific examples
the logical structure of how proofs build on each other is very immediate. This may be emphasized by allowing previous constructions to be used as macros.
Random guessing will fail. If you're interested in solving the puzzle at all, there are no shortcuts. The intellectual effort needed to solve the problems deliberately is clearly the best way to beat the game, and doesn't just have to serve as 'its own reward' or some such thing.
doing math is actually the goal of the game. A lot of attempts at gamifying subjects do so by making the subject an obstruction to the real goal that contributes nothing of value from a game design (or game player) standpoint. If this is going to work, the game has to come first.
The last point is essentially "if I didn't deliberately want to gamify an area of math, but just make a fun game, would this still be worth considering?" I consider the answer here to be yes, for the above reasons. And now we come to the
QUESTION: What areas of math do you think would lend themselves well to games and why? They don't have to be geometric, anything goes (I've seen automata and turing machines used quite effectively, for example). Areas both inside and outside the standard high school curriculum are welcome: I want to expose them to cool new areas while also showing them the value of what they're learning.
BACKGROUND: Some other ideas I had which I rejected as no, for contrast:
- a shooter game where you were stopped to solve trigonometry and geometry problems that are relevant to programming such a game. i.e, "given your position and the mouse's position, what formula would calculate the direction to shoot bullets in?" and it would shoot them in the way you specified, giving incentive for the right answer. The reason I said no to this is because the math here is just a superficial structure on top of the real game (point 6 fails). Since the problem has nothing to do with the goal, someone who can't immediately solve the problem would have no real incentive to do so. I think it can be tweaked into something more natural, but I'm leaving it alone for now.
- A graph theory game that illustrates various concepts as levels of a puzzle game. "find an optimal colouring of this graph", "find a hamiltonian path", "construct a graph with properties x,y,z", etc. The reason I said no to this is because it's not really a game so much as a collection of exercises with a visual interface. You could progress through the game through brute force and be no better at graph theory than you were when you started. The nature of the levels doesn't 'force insight' to proceed (point 5 fails). It could still be useful for a class, but it's not really a proper game.
Something I'm on the fence about would be "Think like a Topologist": you're given two shapes or everyday objects and told to determine whether or not they're homeomorphic (without using those terms, of course). Gauging correctness/speed or getting the class to play together might make for a quick competitive game. Thoughts?