Swimming Otters | Arcademics

Game Critique 2

Design for Educational Games
Instructor | Erik Harpstead
Spring 2021

All photos courtesy of Swimming Otters.

Game Metadata

For my second Game Critique, I have decided to review “Swimming Otters”, an Arcademics Math game that is designed for learners grades 3–6. Swimming Otters specifically focuses on players learning how to evaluate multiplication expressions and how to evaluate them quickly and fluently.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives for “Swimming Otters” is fairly straight -forward. Ultimately, the game should assist players in grades 3–6 in becoming proficient and fluent at their multiplication expressions. Prerequisite knowledge includes some knowledge of multiplication and division and the ability to determine the unknown number of a multiplication or division equation.

“Swimming Otters”, players have the ability to play against anyone in the world. Leveraging a multiplayer experience “Swimming Otters” encourages players to work through their own multiplication expressions quickly, but also encourages players to beat out other players in the game experience in an effort to earn points that earn them power-ups and badges.

At the end of the experience, based on how many players were involved you are presented with your results and place within the race, an evaluation of the problems that you missed if any, and the correct answer, your accuracy, your rate of answering questions per-minute and the ability to play or end the game.

Additional information to aid your progress in playing multiple games includes the ability to track and receive power-ups and badges in addition to viewing the “Top Scores” of the day.

Game Elements

The core mechanics and game elements of “Swimming Otters” include.

  1. The otter that you are playing
  2. The other otter players that are online
  3. The equation that you have to solve
  4. Up-down & left -right arrow keys
  5. The different levels/barriers that you have to go through
  6. The finish line
  7. The track diagram
  8. The end of the game experience evaluation
  9. Power-Ups + Bages
  10. The Top Scores of the Day

At the beginning of the game, you identify what otter you want to be in addition to adding a name for your otter avatar. In the game description players are introduced to the content of the game identified which includes: Algebraic Variable Expressions, the grade levels associated with the learning, and the knowledge needed in order to play which is identified as the ability to “determine the unknown whole number in a multiplication or division equation”.

After the player's otter has been created the player is introduced to the Multiplayer lobby where they can see the different players that they will be playing against.

From here players can choose to play publically with players all over the world or create a private game where they can invite specific players that they know.

From here the player is always introduced to 3 other opponents.

And then the player is able to start the game — In this example above I am playing against different computer algorithms as opposed to other players since no one else was online at the moment. After a brief countdown, players are taken to a new page where they start swimming in a river. The perspective provides the player to see themselves underwater as they approach the different number levels along the track.

In addition to the perspective of seeing the otters swimming underwater players can also keep track of their place within the group represented in the track ring with corresponding color codes in the bottom tight circle labeled Lap 1.

Over the course of about a minute players are provided equations associated with their otter for example “1 x ? = 1” represented in the example above. From here players must use the up-down, left-right arrow keys to advance to the corresponding number for their equation.

What’s interesting about the arrow keys is there is no introduction to using this tool — as it is implied that you would advance with an arrow forward. However, although you are able to use the arrows to move up and down and forward, players are not able to move backward.

What is also interesting about this interaction is that it takes about 3–4 clicks in order to advance to the next lane of numbers that the player will be interacting with. Because of the number of clicks between each question and the number of lanes, players can either take one of two paths forward. Advance and make a decision more quickly or consider their answer in between each question and then advance with the arrow keys.

However, if a player thinks too slow they can miss the opportunity to align appropriately to the number that they believe to be correct, or if they move too fast they can often select the wrong number. If the wrong number is selected players are provided minimal feedback where the Otter slows down about half a second before proceeding. Any other visual queues that you have selected the wrong answer are not clearly presented. (However, there is audio feedback that signifies this negative feedback as well).

As I mentioned previously After completing the game players are presented with their ranking results, accuracy, rate of questions answered per minute in addition to the questions that were missed.

Learning Principles

The main learning principles that I have identified in “Swimming Otters” include.

  1. Spacing
  2. Scaffolding
  3. Feedback/Temporal Contiguity

Below I will cover all 4 principles and the effectiveness of their use.

  1. Spacing — The core learning principle of this game is the application of Spacing. Through the Spacing of the different lanes of numbers and the questions that players are given; players are given the opportunity to make decisions and associations with the number that correlates with their equation over both space and time. This principle is very effective in providing the player the opportunity to think about the equation that they are solving for and then quickly make an educated decision based on what they know.
  2. Scaffolding —The application of scaffolding is based on how the player performs between each game. If a player does well the equations become more difficult, which in turn develops a sequence of interactions and math equations that help the player meet higher goals and master more advanced equations.
  3. Feedback/Temporal Contiguity — I have decided to combine the two learning principles of Feedback and Temporal Contiguity since “Swimming Otters” actually uses “Temporal Contiguity” to provide Feedback as a player is going through each lane of numbers. At the start of the game there is a kick-off sound signaling the player to start and then as they go through each equation players are provided a positive ping sound if the answer is correct and a negative horn sound when the answer is incorrect as they are going through the activity. However, it isn't until the very end after they cross the finish line and receive a round of applause that players are provided feedback on the answers that they got wrong and what the correct answer was.

As you can see memory and fluency are the primary categories of learning principles for this game.

Overall Critique

Overall I found this game really easy to interact with particularly since it had a simple barrier for entry. In addition to its simple but dynamic approach to engaging learners who are interested in practicing their algebraic variable expressions, the multiplayer racing experience although competitive still felt very safe and supportive, and I personally found myself wanting to play another round to improve my time but also to avoid getting answers wrong.

Although I was ultimately pleased with the learning experience as a whole there were a couple of things that I would suggest to improve the learning experience further. My suggestions are outlined below.

Levels of Difficulty — Although when playing this game I was aware that each level was getting more difficult to play as I did well, there was no type of labeling or signifier letting me know how I was advancing. Was I still learning specific concepts at one level or had advanced on to a more intermediate level that included more difficult questions? I think this kind of labeling or visual of a player's progress would help learners understand the different levels of multiplication and division that they are beginning to master.

Requesting to Play — Because “Swimming Otters” already includes a multiplayer feature and “Today’s Top Scores” it might be interesting to be able to see where you line up with players around the world on a larger scale and have the ability to request to play other otters that are at a similar level to you.

This kind of visual scaffolding and ability to see different levels of players I believe would help bolster some of the competitiveness among players and their motivation to keep playing the game.

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