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Math: The Mystery Behind Games

Mar 6, 2019

Everyone of every age loves games or some sort, right? And think of how many different kinds of games there are. Board games, video games, simulator games, card games… there’s something for everyone when it comes to games. 

In the last 20 years there’s been an explosion specifically of video games. What once to used to only be a younger demographic playing them, has now emerged into a subculture that includes a wide age range. This is partly because video game developers have tailored games to various ages to widen their target of players. There are so many choices of video games out there right now that appeal to so many different people. While a lot of people love playing these games and clamor for new ones to come out, they maybe don’t stop to think about the creation of the games and what it takes to actually produce a video game – especially ones that considered to be “open world” which allows players to explore and approach objects freely, as opposed to a world with more focused path, linear gameplay. A lot of people also don’t realize the amount of math involved in creating games. So, take a moment and explore how math helps us design and play games.

To begin, it’s an accepted fact that many games that involve math reply on algorithms. Everything from Fort Night to Chess to Poker has certain algorithms by nature. With Fort Night, it’s been programmed, as it would be with online Chess or Poker. With technology, the program itself understands the algorithm best, but players who also understand algorithms tend to do much better than those who don’t. Once a player has figured out an algorithm they tend to be better players, and this skill is also somewhat transferrable between games. In other words, someone who was a Texas Hold’em champion would likely be decent at chess, once they had played enough games to figure out the algorithm. 

Understanding algorithms is something necessary for coding and programming online games, but as a player it gives you strategy. When you can pick out patterns in something and understand the way something will behave as a result of certain actions, you can begin to calculate how to navigate similar situations over and over with success. In real life and in video games this is true. Picking out those patterns and using algorithms to help make informed decisions is something that’s a product of math. 

Another large way math is involved with video games, in particular, is with coding. Coding is a language that makes any sort of website, software, phone application and video game possible. There are other skills necessary to designing video games, but programming with code is one of the important things needed to create games. While there is debate as to whether various kinds of coding is considered its own language, the connection between math and coding is undeniable. Coding uses many core math competency skills like reasoning in repeating, making use of structure, precision in calculations, constructing arguments and problem solving. 

Perhaps the biggest connection between math and coding is that coding is a very real way to put math to use. We use math every day in very practical ways (read more about how math applies to real life here). Things like grocery shopping, sports spectating and traveling are all activities math is regularly used for. Coding takes very impractical math applications and makes them something useable, too. Think of your favorite website (Mathnasium of Cherry Littleton!). Chances are, you’re just able to click buttons and scroll to see whatever you want to see. Behind all that is a bunch of programming using numbers, letters and symbols telling the website how to look and function so that it’s easy to understand. Same thing with video games - coding makes them possible. 

So, without math, games would be pretty boring, huh? Math applies to all sorts of interesting problems – some of which never show up in required math and lots which are practical uses either in our every day lives, like in the form of games, or in career paths. This post shows you some of the other ways math — and its ally computer science — let us create and play games. Do you have a favorite game that involves math? Can you think of other ways math is used practically or in fun ways? Comment!