A Quest – Story, Problem-Solving, & An Award-Winning Video Game

“On a dark and stormy night…..”    So begins an incredible quest to save a lost pet.    Along the way, the protagonist must disguise herself as a monster in order to infiltrate the enemy stronghold.   She must solve a myriad of problems along the way in order to elude detection.    The farther she goes, the more challenging things become.     The stakes are high.      Time is running short.

This engaging story is at the heart of Lure of the Labyrinth, an award-winning video game developed by MIT’s Education Arcade.    The game addresses a fairly wide array of middle school math concepts (ratios, expressions, equations, integers, area and perimeter, linear relationships and slope).    It does so in a way that engages students in open-ended problem solving that enables them to construct a deep understanding of these concepts.    As is true of most video games, it adapts to match the player’s skill.     The game also incorporates a messaging system among players within a single team (a team consists of a subset of the students within the same class) that encourages mathematical discourse.    The game utilizes research-based techniques and is completely free.       The site also has teacher resources complete with fully developed lessons.

Lure of the Labyrinth is my all-time favorite video game.

  1. The game is engaging.   Its use of story is powerful to both boys and girls, but I think is especially powerful in drawing girls into the game and into mathematics.     Story is powerful for girls, I think.
  2. The problems that students encounter are very rich. They have multiple entry points and the level of cognitive demand grows to match the player’s problem-solving.   (This is not a skill-based game.)
  3. Progress in the game requires students to move beyond their comfort zone, to grow.
  4. The messaging capability in the game allows students to engage in mathematical discourse even when they are in physically separate spaces. Kids playing at home can discuss the math with each other as they play.
    1. The messaging capability is designed in such a way that students can only communicate with members of their own team (the teacher decides who is on what team when setting up the accounts).
    2. The teacher can see all of the messages. This ensures that the messages are appropriate (the teacher can block a student’s messaging capability if that student steps out of bounds).
    3. Because the teacher can read the messages, there is a documented window into student thinking.
  5. The messaging actually seems to develop perseverance in the face of challenge. To explain what I mean by this, I think the best thing is to tell a story about a couple of students.   I had assigned playing the game for homework one night.    A student was playing the game and got stuck.   He sent a message to his teammates asking for help.   They didn’t happen to be playing at that particular moment.    He kept at the problem while he was waiting to hear from someone.   Suddenly, his messaging changed.   He said things like “Wait, don’t tell me.”   “I think I’ve got it.”   He did get it, on his own.   Knowing there was support out there from another kid helped him to persevere and to eventually conquer the problem himself.
  6. The game gives an engaging context that can then be used to build lessons.   I have tried some of the lessons presented on the site and have built some of my own.   I’ve been really happy with how well they worked.


To use the game, I begin with game-play.   I usually start them with the game on the same day that I give a pre-assessment (I have to know what students know for their IEPs) for the year.   It is something they can begin as they finish the pre-assessment without requiring instruction or disrupting other students.   I then have them play the game a second day in the lab.    This time in the lab together is really important.   It gets them over the initial hump starting the game because they can talk to each other (there are no directions, students have to explore and discover how things work).    After they’ve had some time together, I can assign playing the game for homework (they’re favorite homework ever).   Once they have played the game a little bit, I can pull up one of the puzzles and we can play it together as a class.   As we play the puzzle, I have students direct the play and talk about their strategies.   This serves as a launch into a lesson on the concept addressed in the puzzle.

You can find the game here