Case Study of an Epistemic Mathematics Computer Game: Investigating Players' In-Game Mathematical Identity

Case Study of an Epistemic Mathematics Computer Game: Investigating Players' In-Game Mathematical Identity

Chantal Buteau (Brock University, Canada) and Eric Muller (Brock University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2015-4.ch002
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E-Brock Bugs is a serious educational game (SEG) about probability which was created based on Devlin's design principles for games whose players adopt identities of mathematically able persons. This kind of games in which “players think and act like real world professionals” has been called epistemic. This chapter presents an empirical study of 16-year-old students' (n=61) experience playing E-Brock Bugs as part of their mathematics data management course. Results suggest that most students engaged in the game's mathematics and experienced a mathematical in-game identity. No gender difference was observed, but the students' self-identified mathematical capability (which was not correlated with their mathematics grades) seems to differentiate the extent to which they experience a mathematical in-game identity. E-Brock Bugs contributes to validate Devlin's game design approach to epistemic mathematics SEGs.
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Digital games have become ubiquitous in our lives. Mayo (2009) indicates that such games have millions of users and also “embed many pedagogical practices known to be effective in other environments” (p. 79). Beyond their entertainment value, playing video games may also positively impact students’ learning (Gee, 2003). Such benefits may be attributed to the intrinsic nature of games or, as Gee (2013) summarily notes, because “games are just well-designed experiences in problem solving” (p. 17).

Grounded on Gee’s (2003) work on game design, mathematician Keith Devlin (2011) proposed a set of mathematics serious educational game (SEG) design principles aimed to develop players’ mathematical thinking and ability to “adopt the identity of ‘being a mathematically able person’” (p. 127). However, Devlin argued at the time that no mathematics computer game met all of the principles, and a few years later he seems to believe the situation has not changed much (Kiili et al., 2015). It is important to note that Devlin’s vision of a mathematics game is different from most mathematics games found online in which the player progresses through ‘drill questions’ (e.g. times table questions). In short, to him, a game must involve genuine mathematics problem solving within the game environment. But a question remains: Does the integration of Devlin’s principles into a game design lead to the desired outcome—namely a game in which players adopt the identities of mathematically able persons? Such a game would be categorized as ‘epistemic’ (Shaffer, 2005).

In this chapter, we present a study which purpose is to explore whether the implementation of Devlin’s (2011) proposed mathematics computer game design principles could lead to an epistemic mathematics computer game. We use, as a case study, a mathematics computer game that was created to intentionally integrate Devlin’s (2011) design principles (Broley, 2013): E-Brock Bugs© (n.d.), an amateur free online probability game. We present a preliminary empirical study aiming at getting insights into the epistemic nature of E-Brock Bugs. Our study surveyed 16-year-old students (n=61) about their E-Brock Bugs game play experience in order to gain insights into (a) their perception of Devlin’s mathematics SEG design principles implemented in the game; (b) their mathematical engagement in E-Brock Bugs; and (c) their mathematical identity experience while playing the game.

This chapter contributes to the discussion of epistemic mathematics SEGs and provides preliminary insights into players’ potential mathematical engagement and in-game identity in such games. It also illustrates a SEG created according to Devlin’s design approach. The next section outlines a discussion on SEGs, including those about mathematics. This is followed by a framework of epistemic mathematics SEG design integrating Devlin’s principles and in which mathematical engagement and identity are discussed. The section that follows provides a brief description of the E-Brock Bugs computer game according to the framework (i.e., from a designer point of view). The methods of our empirical study (i.e., from players’ points of view) is then presented, followed by a discussion of our results. We end this chapter with some recommendations, future research directions, and some concluding remarks.

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