Digital skills champion Ian Livingstone discusses an ambitious new project that hopes to upskills the UK's aspiring games creators

Let’s support the education of games developers… through games

It may sound obvious, but there’s an implicit understanding amongst games designers and gamers that action equals progression. You want to get that achievement or experience that win state? OK, then… do something.

This very basic principle of player engagement fuels our entire industry output. But why can’t it help fuel our input too? We know we need to develop strong maths and physics skills for our industry – and highlight their importance in good games. But what are we actually doing about it?

This is the idea behind Age of Algorithms: a new online maths game developed by London Geometry and funded by Creative Skillset, the creative industries’ skills body, of which I’m a patron.

The aim, quite simply, is to help develop maths skills by making explicit the underlying maths and physics that lie behind deceptively simple games like Angry Birds.

Talking to fifty head teachers recently, I put a quadratic equation on the screen and asked who could solve it. One solitary hand went up. We learn maths as a pure discipline, it’s abstract and it hangs in space. People easily forget things like quadratic equations and can’t even remember why they learned them in the first place.

But these very same maths skills which we’re so quick to forget are absolutely critical if you want a successful career in games development.

Learners get satisfaction from doing rather than memorising and being playful helps enormously. In the words of Sam Cooke, “I never learned what a slide rule is for”, and this is a perfect explanation of why Age of Algorithms is needed. The visionaries amongst us know that maths is at the centre of explaining why the world works and how it’s organised.

But how do you bring the concepts inherent in trigonometry to life in a way that seems impactful and real? Make something come to life by talking about it in a way that is understandable, relevant and, above all, fun.

If you can do that, people will want to know and follow. Age of Algorithms does just that, through a series of gradually more complex challenges, all within a 2D medieval Monty Pythonesque setting.

It’s aimed at those in the creative industries who want to brush up their maths skills but also those advanced school leavers and university students wanting to test their knowledge. Topics covered within the game include: triangle geometry, angles, trigonometry, radians, vectors, velocity displacement and projectile trajectories. And while the focus of Age of Algorithms is on post 19s, of course school children should be encouraged to try Age of Algorithm to help them become digital creators.

I said a year ago at the Develop Conference that one way of improving education is to gamify aspects of it. It’s not dissimilar to the educational models used in early years, where children are put in control of the learning experience – forcing decisions engagement and overall stimulus – but with the added satisfaction of gaining the rewards that are offered in games.

Our games industry is much larger than we previously thought: with a 22 per cent boom in companies, making 1,902 active games companies in 2014, the industry is contributing as much as £1.7bn to the UK economy (NESTA, 2014).

With so much at stake it’s now down to the games community to help drive this growth and future-proof itself. Interesting approaches like Age of Algorithms are part of this solution. But we need more.

Ian Livingstone CBE is a patron of Creative Skillset. To start the free online course which is open now, register on the Age of Algorithms website.

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