Lost at the Forever Mine: A Game Where Only Math Will Save You

Lindy Biller
Feb 27, 2020 · 3 min read

If you’re a math teacher, you’ve probably heard the age-old question, the one that has plagued math teachers for generations: “When am I going to use this?”

I’ve got a confession to make. When I was a kid, I wondered the same thing. I wanted to become a writer. When would I ever need to understand slope intercept?

Here at Field Day, we wanted to help put math in context for kids. So we designed a game in which that humble little formula, y=mx+b, becomes a survival tool. Introducing Lost at the Forever Mine, the world’s first Math Drama!

The game puts the player in the role of an intergalactic scientist stranded on an abandoned planet. Players use models to make predictions that help them survive. The game includes beautiful art, cute robots, and a snarky computer who (spoiler alert!) may or may not be trying to sabotage you.

To create the game, we joined forces with the brilliant minds at UW-MRSEC, who provided their expertise in mathematical modeling. The scientists at MRSEC use models every day as they develop new materials for everything from computer screens to space travel.

Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel (left), Education Director at MRSEC, working alongside teacher fellows and Field Day director David Gagnon.

Sarah Gagnon, creative director at Field Day, pushed us to create a story-driven game where math has consequences. As Sarah pointed out, it’s hard to feel invested when you’re making models just for the sake of making models. When you’re racing to escape an abandoned planet before your oxygen runs out, slope intercept becomes a lot more interesting.

Sarah was inspired in her approach by How Not to Be Wrong, a stunning, fun-to-read book by Jordan Ellenberg. In his book, Ellenberg digs into why math matters. (Hint: It’s not because we all need to become mathematicians.)

“We tend to teach mathematics as a long list of rules,” Ellenberg writes. “You learn them in order and you have to obey them, because if you don’t obey them you get a C-. This is not mathematics. Mathematics is the study of things that come out a certain way because there is no other way they could possibly be.”

Making models and trying not to panic at the Forever Mine.

When Sarah read How Not to Be Wrong, she was struck by the impact of math on the world — and, on a more personal level, on how we think. Common sense might lead us in the right direction for a while, but eventually it’ll lead us astray. Math is a course corrector. As Ellenberg puts it, “Knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs that reveal hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of the world.”

With math, we build everything from airplanes to computers. We cure diseases and predict natural disasters. In our day-to-day lives, we manage our finances, tip servers at restaurants, become unstoppable at Settlers of Catan, and avoid being tricked by misleading statistics in the news.

As for me, the girl who was so sure I’d never use y=mx+b again . . . I ended up writing the story and in-game text for a multi-level learning game based on the slope-intercept equation. Point taken, math.

“Math is woven into the way we reason,” Ellenberg writes. “And math makes you better at things. Knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs that reveal hidden structures under the messy and chaotic surface of the world.”

We hope Lost at the Forever Mine will give kids a positive, playful experience with mathematical modeling. The game is free to play and aligns with National Science Standards. Playtime is approximately 25 minutes.

Want to use the game in your classroom? Check it out at https://fielddaylab.org/play/forevermine/

We design learning games at UW-Madison.

field day lab
Lindy Biller

Written by

Writer and storyteller with Field Day Lab

field day lab

We design learning games at UW-Madison. Field Day Lab is both a game studio and a research lab. The University of Wisconsin — Madison is ground zero for research on Games and Learning.

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