We have had many interesting conversations in our co-design workshops recently, several of which were about the way we are visualizing the choice between more and less in our game.
In Millie Moreorless the central game mechanic hinges on the player being able to look at two groups of dots, and correctly choose which group has more or less dots as appropriate. This choice is a tool for rearranging the landscape of the game – you choose more from the dot groups to add blocks to the world where the path ends, and choose less to remove them when a tower gets in Millie’s way. The groups of dots are presented as randomly arranged clusters in two circles, as below:
We have had to be quite careful throughout our design process to make sure we are asking the right question in the game, in order to offer players the chance to work on the right skill – which in this case is magnitude awareness. By ‘magnitude awareness’ we mean our ability to assess approximate number and judge quantities instinctively, i.e without counting. It is this skill which new research indicates is a key foundation for later maths learning.
In earlier versions of the game, we first presented the two dot groups as they would appear on dice or dominoes. However, using these standardized formats was really asking the children to recognize patterns and refer to associated mental number systems, rather than make instinctive judgments about quantity. So our dots now appear instead in random configurations each time. The randomness of the arrangements is also helpful in counteracting our natural bias towards seeing denser configurations as 'more'.
Making sure the learning element of the game is visually accessible is crucial, as children with Down’s Syndrome are often very visual learners and we want to make the most of this strength! We use dots for a clean, uncomplicated aesthetic that can be assessed at a glance, rather than clouding our visuals with unfairly distracting elements.
We did have some fun with the context for the magnitude choice however! Will and I live and breathe stories, and it was important to us that the game had a rich imaginative world of its own. We knew a strong central character would bring an important social aspect to the game, heightening engagement among our young learners who can otherwise quickly lose focus or forget what they are doing! And so we have Millie, our waving, dancing, excitable space adventurer, exploring planets in the distant, dreamy reaches of outer space… and she needs YOUR help!
Huge thanks to our amazing early design partners Made in Me and wonderful artist Nick Stoney for helping Millie to come alive :)