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Major League Math

Major League Math screen shot Published by: Theatrix
Age Range: 8 - 12
Year: 1997
Platform: Mac or PC
Reviewed by: Alana Parkes
Image © Theatrix. Used with permission.

Is the Game Mathematical?

For each of the four levels of play you are given the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division or all four. (Level one only covers addition or subtraction.) In addition to problems using these operations, all of the levels include many problems that focus on reading tables, comparing numbers, converting from feet to inches or pounds to ounces, rounding, time, and baseball. About three-fourths of the problems are multiple choice and one-fourth are calculation problems where you type in the answer.

Overall the math problems are disappointingly simple. Most of them only require one skill at a time, for example just addition, or just multiplication. Most are in the form of word problems so a question might ask "If a Rockies game takes an average of 3 hours to play, how many hours will 7 games take?" instead of "what's 3 time 7?" There is just not much math here to engage with.

Almost half of the 50 or so questions in a four inning game ask you to read information in a table. No interpreting is required, it is simply a matter of comparing three numbers and choosing the largest or smallest. For example, given the name, height, and weight of three players, click on the heaviest player, or the shortest player. The level of difficulty is greater when the numbers are .312, .252, and .281 (as they are for comparing batting averages) than when comparing whole numbers for weight, but these questions primarily test whether you can read information presented in rows and columns.

Some table questions require both logic and number sense. These questions ask you to fill in a table based on some given information. For example, "Moises Alou had a higher batting average than Kevin Elster but a lower batting average than Mark McGwire." Given the information in the table below, put the names in the correct rows:
Name Average Hits
? .252 130
? .312 132
? .218 152
This question requires table-reading skills, comparson of numbers, and using logic to sort out the information in the sentence. It also requires that you combine these skills, not just use them sequentially. This is where mathematics can be most engaging. Problems like this ask you not just to repeat facts, but to synthesize facts and skills to solve the problem. If this question were typical of the game in its complexity instead of being the most difficult, there might be enough math to make the game worth playing.

Some of the questions just don't make sense. "The Marlins won 80 games last season. Pitcher Al Leiter won 16 of those games. How many more wins would Al Leiter need to equal the Marlins' win?" There are plenty of numbers to compare in baseball, but not pitcher wins to team wins. Pitchers play a smaller percentage of games than their team as a whole. There is no real reason to ask this question, nor to care about the answer. Instead why not ask, "What percentage of the Marlin's wins did Al Leiter pitch in?" Or, "The most wins by a pitcher in one season was x. How many more wins does Leiter need to tie the record?" Meaningless questions may turn off some baseball-loving children who recognize that the questions are not realistic.

The Coach's Corner offers rudimentary help on topics such as how to read a table, place value, the definition of odd and even numbers, and order of operations. It also tackles more complex topics like fractions and how to read and interpret word problems. Some of these may be helpful for someone who needs a quick review, but most are too superficial, vague, and short to be of much help.

Is the Game Equitable?

Since the whole context is baseball, you won't want to bother with this game if you don't already like baseball. However, if you do like baseball, you may be disappointed to find that it is not necessary to know anything about baseball to play well. You don't actually need to know any game strategy as there is a "Play Meter" which helps you decide whether to throw a curve ball or a fast ball. There are very few questions that only a fan would know, such as the weight of the ball, or the distance between the bases. This information is available in the trivia area, which you can access while answering a question. There is no time limit for answering the questions, so you are free to get engrossed in the various pieces of trivia for as long as you want. However, with all the starts and stops as the game waits for you to click to move on to the next part, the pace of the game is as leisurely as real baseball games.

It almost goes without saying that there are no female representations in the game whatsoever. Major League baseball does now have a female announcer, but in this game the announcer is male. The "Power Up" games require careful hand-eye coordination and have a lot of time pressure. These factors, and the baseball context, make it likely that the game will appeal primarily to boys.

Is the Game a Good Game?

There is no obvious connection between getting the answer right and doing well in the following play. For example, if you are batting and answer incorrectly, you may get on base, or if you answer correctly, you may strike out. Over the course of the game I have found that I did win if I answered most of the questions correctly. When I got every question wrong, my team lost the game, so there is some incentive to get the questions right, but it is unsatisfying to spend time figuring out the correct answer and not get a hit. There is other feedback for correct or incorrect answers, but it is very minimal compared to having feedback in the play that follows. This kind of disconnect between an answer and the play that follows it is found at all levels of the game.

At an over-arching level, I find it strange that no knowledge of baseball itself is required. Nor is it very realistic to have to answer a math problem in the middle of a pitch. There is a lot of mathematics in baseball beyond RBIs and ERAs (which I still don't understand after reading the one sentence description in the trivia section). You estimate the speed and angle of the ball when it is hit to calculate where you should be to catch it. You can use information about the player at bat to determine what kind of pitch he is likely to hit poorly or if a runner is likely to try to steal a base. (This is a table-reading skill similar to the more complex questions in the game.)

You can choose to be and play against any major league team, but all of the players are anonymous in their white or gray uniforms and all have the same pinkish-colored skin. The only difference your team selection makes is what logo appears as the home and away spots on the screen.

The four arcade-style "Power-Up" games claim to help your team in pitching, fielding, batting, and running. During the game a "Power Meter" keeps track of how well your team is performing. As the innings progress, your "power" declines. The "Power Up" games (if you do well) will boost your power in a particular area, say hitting. However, I wasn't able to notice any difference in how my team performed based on this power level. A sudden influx of hitting power did not give me any obvious advantage. My other problem was that with only 3 opportunities to play the four "Power Up" games in a four inning game, I only got good at one of them. I would have welcomed the opportunity to practice these games over and over, outside the context of a baseball game.

I don't have much experience with excellent examples of 3-D animation, but the simulation of the action looks pretty good, although by the end of 4 innings the moves start to look really familiar. Basically, if you want a 3-D baseball simulation game, go out and buy one; there are several on the market. You are bound to find math in them somewhere and it will be better integrated into the game than it is in this one.

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