Frog Fractions: The Public Perception of Educational Games

Jon Aleckson's picture
Frog Fractions

 

The first thing you might notice when playing Twinbeard Studio’s Frog Fractions is that the game doesn’t seem to actually teach you anything about fractions. Clicking causes your frog to use its tongue to grab and eat approaching insects, which rewards you with a score delivered in a seemingly random fraction. You might also notice a very difficult-to-parse fraction as your tallied score, as each new fraction must find a common denominator with the previous tally. However all of this is done automatically, and you do not seem to be on the hook for figuring any of it out. So is this just a really bad educational game? Read on for spoilers, or play the game if you want to discover for yourself.

Frog Fractions, like Upgrade Complete, abuses the oft-used upgrade system from modern web games, but instead of frivolous cosmetic changes, the gameplay actually changes completely as you buy certain upgrades. There is also some sort of Socratic dialogue going on between the buttons that give you the option to upgrade or remove lock-on targeting. Buying a turtle to ride around on makes collecting the falling fruit easier, and some of the other power-ups make collecting bugs easier. There is also a “cybernetic brain” upgrade that converts all scores to scientific notation. This might be the first time you realize the game is going to get even more strange. You might also realize something is up if you use your turtle friend to go down under the water. There you discover a huge pile of fruit that must have fallen into the lake over the course of days. Swim down there and soon your fruit score will read “like a billion”.  Now all of the upgrades in the game are essentially free.

The initial phase of the game is possibly a take on the Math Blaster games, which attempted to combine shooting and flash cards in various ways. The main game mechanic of clicking on flies has nothing to do with the fractions you are collecting, and in an even more startling example of ludonarrative dissonance, you are interrupted with typing tests instead of math problems involving fractions. I’m not sure this was an intentional commentary on Math Blaster’s failure to integrate learning and gameplay, but one could certainly interpret it that way.

Soon your turtle will be upgraded to a space-traveling dragon, and the bugs will be firing colorful bullets at you. You find yourself flying to Bug Mars, where you fight a robot that imprisons you and takes you to court!

At the Bug Mars court, you are given a multiple choice quiz in the form of a citizenship test. This has no real feedback or opportunity to study, but it doesn’t matter, your answers aren’t scored. Since you are set up to not know any of the “right” responses, you have the same experience of taking a surprise exam in a “you didn’t study for in a college class you frequently slept through” manner. It doesn’t matter though; all of the answers take you to the same place.

The middle part of the game, where you navigate a silhouetted dragon through an underwater maze while an audio documentary of a fictional history of boxing is played, demonstrates the very oldest of old-style education – the lecture. Personally, I’m an auditory learner; so I actually found the fake history of boxing fascinating and hilarious. If you’re not, this portion may just remind you how unhelpful lectures can be for most learners.

The Text-Adventure portion of the game is actually the least critical of its medium. While it would have been easy to include an arbitrary and nearly unsolvable puzzle like the infamous babel fish puzzle, instead, this part of the game can be completed using logic and experimentation.

The final part of the game has you selling “Bug Pornography” in a somewhat risqué remake of the   “interactive spreadsheet” style game Lemonade Stand. It’s ostensibly about managing inventory, advertising, and pricing. This is undercut, however, by the ability to just print more money whenever you need it. This creates a fun comparison of traditional supply-and-demand economics with modern deficit spending, and also providing the player with an easy way to win this part of the game to move on to the (suitably surreal) ending.I consider Frog Fractions to be an excellent satire of the type of educational games I grew up with. It’s a fun, strange walk through various types of educational gameplay concepts from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s worth playing just for its silliness, but perhaps you can also use it to examine some of the less successful strategies for developing educational games.

 

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