For a culture that is totally fearful of Mathematics, I think it’s amazing that we have so much mathematics in our video games. You might think you are avoiding that pesky mathematical reality by playing games, but in most cases this just isn’t true.

I would like to preface this with the idea that I am looking at this from the players perspective. I’m going to completely ignore the fact that the machinery that runs the games and the software behind what you see on screen has piles and piles of math. I’m going to ignore this because I think this is something that most people believe even if they don’t know how it works. I want to look at how a user interacts with something they find “enjoyable”.

One of the most popular games on the market right now has been rising in popularity for almost three and a half years. This is the MMORPG (Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game) called World of Warcraft (WoW). This is the game that ’caused’ the death of several Chinese players in 2005 when they wouldn’t stop playing for days on end. I am one of the 10 million current subscribers though I don’t play nearly as much as I used to.

There is a lot of math involved to play WoW. When one first starts playing she needs to do a lot of simple math at first. If she has a profession (I’ll consider alchemy) she must solve elementary word problems like “I have 5 empty vials, 2 Mageroyal and 4 Briarthorn, how may Elixirs of Wisdom can I make?” (Answer: 2). She also analyzes the probability that she will get a skill up with a certain grouping of materials. Something like, “Probabilistically, would it be better to make 2 of the cheaper items and get {0,1,2} skill ups, or make 1 more expensive items and be guaranteed a skill up?”

You may be thinking that as a player one might ignore those questions. And, yes, a player can and people do all the time. But they are not as effective- they waste time finding extra materials, they mis-use skill points, they choose bad gear. As you get more advanced there is some really interesting mathematics that cause bad intellectual choices to hurt your progress in game. Somehow it seems that only a few people consider how much of a particular bonus they need before the it stops benefiting them. And these are the people who progress further, look cooler, and are the envy of the newer players in WoW. Just as in life, if you ignore your finances they will not grow for you; if you ignore the mathematics behind this particular video game you will not grow as an effective character.

Interesting? I think it’s fascinating that people, who are trying to avoid the world, willing do math to suceed at they are really passionate about. Somehow we just need to find more of those things or somehow capture that magic and stick it in schools…?

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I totally agree. Wow!

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