Fuglesang’s children’s book now as a game

The Tangle Math game is based on Det svarta hålet, a children’s book by Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang. The game has been launched as an app, developed by two researchers and lecturers at Linköping University.

“We wanted to develop a game that causes the players to do a whole lot of calculation, and we wanted at the same time to make it fun”, says Erik Berglund, senior lecturer in computer science in the Department of Computer and Information Science (IDA).

Everything stated when Tomas Ahlström, a games entrepreneur who works at LiU Innovation and project manager for East Sweden Game, met Christer Fuglesang at an event at Visualization Center C in Norrköping a few years ago. They came up with an idea – to develop a game as a supplement to Christer Fuglesang’s children’s book Det svarta hålet. Erik and Aseel Berglund became involved in the work at an early stage.

Aseel and Erik Berglund “Our research deals with motivation, games and learning, so this was ideal for us. We had complete freedom in designing the game, an interactive maths game similar to Memory, with numbers instead of pictures.”

Christer Fuglesang’s book tells the story of brother and sister Markus and Mariana as they travel through a black hole, where quantum physics poses major challenges for the children. In the quantum world, particles exist in common states and are tightly associated with each other, and the developers wanted to make this fundamental mechanism clear in the game. In Tangle Math, the players search for two pieces with the same number. Not all pieces state their number in an obvious way, but the players can calculate hidden numbers since pieces with the same colour all have the same sum. The pieces in the game are interwoven in the same way as particles in the quantum world, and players compete to find pairs of numbers as quickly as possible.

“It was important for us to make sure the players keep calculating. One challenge in designing educational games is to avoid allowing players to progress without thinking. It should not be possible to complete a level by guessing: we wanted the players to have sufficient patience to do the calculations needed to advance”, says Aseel Berglund, who also is senior lecturer in computer science at IDA. 

The graphics in the game are based on the book, which means that they are familiar to children who have read it, and a short summary is given at the end of each level about what has happened in the background story. The game is intended for children who are already interested in maths, and can be played by those aged seven years and upwards.
“But anyone can play it, because it’s mathematical puzzles at different levels”, says Erik Berglund.

After more than three years’ work developing the game, with many meetings, discussions, and test runs by a reference group, everyone – Erik and Aseel Berglund and Christer Fuglesang – is satisfied with the final result, and the app has been launched. The release took place at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm on 14 May. LiU Innovation and East Sweden Game have supported the process, and the game has been published by Fri Tanke förlag.

Translated by George Farrants