Archive for December, 2013

Today’s short guest-post comes from Tim McMann, a video-game blogger on t’Internet. For another great article on video game culture, Tim recommends visiting www.fearlessgamer.com. Enjoy! 

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Video games and the gamers that play them often have a bad rap when it comes to the educational value, or lack thereof, that video games are thought to offer. There are actually many compelling reasons though that contradict the negative aspects of video gaming and actually show how video games can make you smarter, increase your cognitive abilities and help your overall problem solving abilities. Check out the list below of the seven ways that video games can make you smarter in order to arm yourself the next time that mom tells you it is time to turn off the console and hit your homework!

1. Video Games Force You to Problem Solve

One of video games’ primary tasks typically involves using your intellect in order to solve a problem that is placed in front of you. Whether that means you need to take out an entire army’s enemy brigade with your one well-armed solider or you need to score a touchdown on the vaunted Carolina Panthers’ defense, video games force you to think and come up with creative solutions to master the game.

2. Video Games Teach History

When you play a video game, you are often drawn back into a period of time that you may have known next to nothing about prior to picking up the controller. Sometimes a video game will have you playing alongside knights in The Crusades and other times they can place you in the trenches of World War II. Even the staunchest history buff cannot argue that there is some educational value from participating in an interactive history lesson!

3. Video Games Teach Teamwork

Ever since we are little, we have been taught the importance of teamwork and video games can reinforce this concept almost as well as sports. When you and your three closest friends are online taking on a level of your favorite game, there is strategy involved and roles are often assigned to ensure that all flanks are covered. If one team member does not pull their weight, the value of teamwork is quickly discovered and a valuable lesson is learned.

4. Video Games Are Great for Hand-Eye Coordination

Think fast and hit that 95 mile per hour fastball! Fast-paced and action-packed games enhance peoples’ ability to act without even looking at their hands. This is important in many real life situations.

5. Video Games Force Quick Action

Need to make a decision in a hurry and you are not sure how to act? If so, you are most likely dead in your game since you have to think on your feet. Video games are a great help for improvisation skills.

6. Video Games Require Communication

With the advent of online, multi-player action, gamers must interact with each other much more than was previously required. This increase in communication makes you more conversant and is a clear educational benefit.

7. Video Games Keep You Focused

When you play video games, you are able to focus your thoughts and actions onto a single task. This skill can carry over to educational activities that require this focused energy and singular attention to specific details to master a skill or concept.

Remember that gaming is not only fun, but educational when you stop and think about all that it can teach!

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So now you don’t have to feel guilty about spending hours and hours striving to get 100% completion on all those games you got for Christmas (those Riddler datapacks will be the death of me…)! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and I look forward to writing some new (and sometimes exciting) blog posts as we hit 2014!

Tom

I like Futurama. I like it a lot. In fact, I would even say I prefer it to The Simpsons (the newer episodes at least). For those of who who have been living under a rock, Futurama is by the same chap that created The Simpsons (Matt Groening) and it is a cartoon about a delivery boy who is cryogenically frozen until he wakes up in the year 3000. Then come the wacky shenanigans with a cyclops, a robot, an old professor, and whatever-the-heck Dr Zoidberg is.

What may be of interest to you is that some of the showrunners and writers of both Futurama and The Simpsons have a background in mathematics. There have been many many mathematical references or jokes embedded into The Simpsons, which might be the topic of another blog post – for more info, I recommend Simon Singh’s book ‘The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets’. No, today I’m going to be talking about one of the greatest pieces of mathematics embedded into a television programme that I have ever seen: The Futurama Theorem.

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The Futurama Theorem was invented by Ken Keeler one of the writers of the show who also happens to have a PhD in applied mathematics. It was created for the sole purpose of explaining a concept behind an episode of Futurama – think of it like the ultimate ‘deus ex machina’. Let me explain: in the Season 6 episode entitled ‘The Prisoner of Benda’, Professor Farnsworth and Amy Wong invent a mind-switching machine (this allows two people to switch minds). However, once two people have switched minds, they cannot switch back directly. So for most of the episode, both characters are trying to get back to their original bodies by switching minds with a whole host of other characters. Just when all hope is lost, the Professor comes up with a mathematical solution to their situation:

It’s so…beautiful…

What this proves, in not so many words, is that no matter how many mind switches between two bodies have been made, they can still all be restored to their original bodies using only two extra people, provided these two people have not had any mind switches already. Pretty cool, huh?

Now the truly amazing thing about this theorem is that it was made just so the writers could continue the story in a resolute manner: they didn’t want the classic cut to ’20 hours later’ and everything would be sorted. No, they got one of the writers to come up with an actual valid mathematical theorem (that had never been published before) as a way of concluding an episode. Ken Keeler, you fantastic S.O.B.!

For those of who who cannot ‘read’ maths and are interested in what the heck the formula states, here it is in English:

  • Step 1: Have everybody who’s messed up arrange themselves in circles, each facing the body their mind should land in (e.g., if Fry’s mind is in Zoidberg’s body, then the Zoidberg body should face the Fry body).
  • Step 2: Go get two “fresh” (as of yet never mind-swapped) people. Let’s call them Helper A and Helper B.
  • Step 3: Fix the circles one by one as follows:
  • 3.a) Start each time with Helper A and Helper B’s minds in either their own or each other’s bodies
  • 3.b) Pick any circle of messed-up people you like and unwrap it into a line with whoever you like at the front
  • 3.c) Swap the mind at the front of the line into Helper A’s body
  • 3.d) From back to front, have everybody in the line swap minds with Helper B’s body in turn. (This moves each mind in the line, apart from the front one, forward into the right body)
  • 3.e) Swap the mind in Helper A’s body back where it belongs, into the body at the back of the line. Now the circle/line has been completely fixed. The one side effect is that for each time a circle is fixed, the Helpers’ minds will switch places, but that’s OK, see below
  • Step 4: At the very end, after all the circles have been fixed, mind-swap the two Helpers if necessary (i.e., in case there was originally an odd number of messed-up circles)

So there you have it: if you ever find yourself in a mind-swapped mishap then you may have need of The Futurama Theorem. If not, then at least you can marvel at how freakin’ awesome it is!

Tom

N.B. I have been told that I need to make my posts more ‘accessible’ to the ‘hoi polloi’ of the Internet world. Therefore, starting from now, if I post something maths-y then I will make sure to include something that non-mathematicians can appreciate and enjoy.

So here’s a picture of a dog dressed as Spiderman: