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Review of
Escape from Dimension Q

Dimension Q screen shot Published by: Headbone Interactive, Inc.
Suggested Age Range: 10 to Adult
Platform: MAC or PC
Reviewer: Megan Murray
Image © Headbone Interactive, Inc. Used with permission.

Is the Game Mathematical?

Escape from Dimension Q is an adventure game with a strong narrative. The game begins with an extensive story (which, like all story portions of the game, can be skipped), setting the scene for the rest of the game. There are many stretches of almost TV-like story in this game. The puzzles you encounter along the way are obstacles faced by Iz and Auggie, in their attempt to save themselves, their music, and as many agents as they can. There are 13 puzzles that involve a wide variety of content, and many of them are quite difficult. Although several levels of hints are available for every puzzle, you must quit the game to access them.

Of the 13 puzzles, most are in some way mathematical, although some focus mostly on reading, music, and problem solving more generally. Several puzzles in Dimension Q offer opportunities for significant mathematical thinking. Three of the stronger puzzles encourage kids to think visually and to use their spatial sense to solve problems. In "The Mixed Up Picture," players arrange a puzzle by sliding pieces within a rectangular frame, to make a picture that offers a clue about a later puzzle. In another puzzle, players have ten minutes to fit Tetrominoes (shapes made up of attached squares) into a grid. Finally, "The Cylinder" provides a 2-D "map" of a 3-D cylinder. Players must slide the patterned pieces of the cylinder horizontally in order to make a complete line (from the bottom of the cylinder to the top) that will transport a shot of "goo" through the cylinder. In all three of these activities, children must think spatially, consider shapes and spaces, visualize such movements as turns, slides, flips and rotations, and plan ahead and consider several options. Such geometric reasoning about spatial relationships is content that is receiving increasing emphasis in schools today.

Several other puzzles are less strong but offer good potential for problem solving. The initial puzzle in Dimension Q involves assembling a coded message. The player is greeted with a row of icons (small pictures) which speak part of a sentence when clicked upon. The task is to arrange the icons into a sentence that makes sense. For children, this can be a difficult and somewhat frustrating task. Since this puzzle provides an important statement of "your mission" in the game, children who are unable to solve it can not continue with the game. Adults can help children by asking questions such as, "Play the whole thing and listen very carefully. Do any parts of the sentence sound right? Which?" Or, "Do you hear any clues about what might come at the beginning or the end?"

Another puzzle with problem-solving potential is "The Chase." Iz and Auggie must search the city streets for a key to turn off a force field generator. Players help them by consulting a map (to see where the key, generator, bad guys, and teleport stations are) and then choosing at each corner or block whether to send them right, left, up or down. As children do this puzzle, they gain experience with map reading and planning routes. Unfortunately, the longer you study the map, the more progress the Qubic Pentameters -- Iz and Auggie's pursuers -- make towards capturing you. This is a difficult puzzle to solve successfully in the amount of time provided. Several other puzzles in Dimension Q offer mathematical tasks, but are also plagued by problematic time pressure.

Other puzzles seem less valuable educationally. For example, the game show "Brain Fry 400" asks players to listen to sounds (some of which are played backwards), and identify the sound from a list of four possibilities. Sounds reasonable. The problem is, the question usually has several different (and usually somewhat unintelligible) component sounds in it, and the possible answers listed are often nonsensical. For example: a) the animal orchestra still needs more rehearsal, b) so that's why the chicken crossed the road, c) never trust an orchestral peacock, and d) the crow caused an accident near the zoo. For many questions, I felt unable to do more than guess.

Is the Game Equitable?

This game features a well-developed story with a host of interesting characters. The main character is a girl -- a strong, smart, humorous, musician. The only other human is Isaac, an African American man who is Iz's musical idol and mentor. Other characters are animated but represent both genders or are not obviously male or female. Research suggests well-developed narratives and characters are features that appeal to girls. We found that girls and boys often enjoyed the story and found it funny.

Dimension Q accommodates a variety of learning styles as well. The puzzles offer a wide range of content (geometry, word, music), and of format (with or without time pressure or hand eye coordination, those that you must complete to progress vs. those you can choose to leave before solving). Also, any time you "die," you can choose a map of the game, and decide where you'd like to continue -- so you don't really die and have to start over.

Is It a Good Game?

Dimension Q was very popular with one group of children we observed. Kids played it often, clamoring for it upon our arrival. These children -- a majority of whom were girls and some of whom were younger than the suggested age of 10 -- were engaged with the story and the puzzles, and were persistent in the face of frustration, helping each other with parts that were too hard. Another group -- of girls and boys, some of whom were 8 and 9 -- was initially very interested in Dimension Q, but soon realized the game was just too hard. Many of these children became frustrated to the point of giving up, in some cases when they could not solve the mandatory initial puzzle. However, adults considering this game should think about the age of children who will use it, their comfort with geometric and auditory activities, and their ability to balance challenge, frustration, and persistence.

Both groups of children were clear about the program's strengths. Children repeatedly told us Dimension Q had a good story (despite it being mostly the same every time through), and that it had good graphics. Many also commented on the humorous aspects of the game. Another common response had to do with the level of difficulty. Almost every child termed the game hard, challenging, or confusing -- whether or not this was a good thing varied from child to child.

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