THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF MILLIE MOREORLESS
An iOS game designed with children with Down's Syndrome to help players improve their maths skills
THE AIM OF THE GAME
Millie Moreorless is driven by a mathematical principle called 'Magnitude', which is the instinctive ability to discriminate between arrays of different quantity. Or, in plain English, it is the ability to recognise that 7 dots is more than 6 dots without counting them.
The theory is that this sense for magnitude is developed in childhood and underpins all subsequent mathematical ability. The research suggests that children with Down's Syndrome develop their magnitude sense more slowly than typically developing children, so we set out to come up with a fun, engaging game based around this concept to help them get better at it.
Basic maths is a fundamental requirement of an independent life. So by making a fun, addictive, exciting game to help young children with Down’s Syndrome get better at magnitude, we are really setting out to equip them with the skills to live a more independent and fulfilled life.
DESIGNING FOR CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME
When designing a game for a specific audience, clearly you need to profile that audience. What is it that gives them their identity, and how do you factor that in to the design? Well, we're designing a game for children with Down's Syndrome. So their shared characteristics are that they're children, and they have Down's Syndrome.
Down's Syndrome is a genetic condition. It occurs by chance. There are no degrees of Down's Syndrome - either you have it or you don't. There is a common perception that people with Down's Syndrome are always "happy" or "full of love", but there is no reason that people who share a genetic condition should all have the same personality traits. So although our target audience all have Down's Syndrome, this doesn't mean they are all the same. Everyone is different.
Down's Syndrome comes with an associated learning disability, which can be anything from mild to moderate or even severe. That is to say that children with Down's Syndrome will all experience a level of learning disability, but some are more able than others. Scientific research, of which there is not a great deal, suggests that children with Down's find maths and numbers tricky - perhaps because it requires abstract rather than concrete thinking. This is why we are targeting this area with our game.
A GAME FOR EVERYONE
Our main audience is children with Down's Syndrome aged 3-12. This is an extremely wide range in terms of cognitive development time, and of course even children the same age can have vastly differing abilities. We are determined that anyone can play Millie, whatever their ability, but at the same time we don't want to lose players who have a slightly higher ability because they are not sufficiently challenged.
Thus the difficulty curve has to be carefully articulated to measure the player's base-line ability and respond appropriately by giving them array choices that challenge but don't exclude them. It also needs to evolve as they play the game if we are to help people to develop number skills. In game design speak, our dynamic difficulty adjustment mechanism has to be very sophisticated.
This requires a lot of testing!
If you would like to read more about how Millie came to be and follow our design process over the initial 6 months of R&D head on over to our original design journal here.
The game was first developed through the REACT Play Sandbox. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology) is one of four UK Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy and is a collaboration between UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England), Watershed and the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.
Enabling Play were supported in the following round of development by Nominet Trust, the UK's only dedicated Tech for Good funder. A UK registered charity, Nominet Trust brings together, invests in and supports people committed to using digital technology to create social and economic value.