Mathematics in Computer Games 👾

As part of this module we have looked at many examples of where fundamental mathematics comes into different industries, one of which being the computer/video game industry.

Image credit: Scratch (2017)

In particular, I wanted to write about mathematics in computer games because when I was younger I was introduced to programmes such as Scratch – a programme which allows you to experiment with computer coding to create your own moving image. When I was learning how to use this programme however, I had no idea that this coding related to mathematics. Even though they are so closely linked – I did not see that computing and mathematics went hand in hand. Just as I was taught procedurally in mathematics it was the same with computing – with no link ever made between the two subjects. Looking back now the connections are clear – understanding numbers to create codes, understanding symbols, patterns and sequences (the list goes on!) But because this wasn’t made explicit, I believed that this type of coding was exclusive to computing and didn’t link to the mathematical concepts I had already learned. This is particularly relevant, considering I was someone who shied away from these topics in mathematics but really enjoyed experimenting and creating codes on Scratch. This also relates to what Ma (1999) explains as “connectedness” – it is important to make the links clear to pupils, not just between mathematic topics, but between maths and other curricular areas, as this makes the learning more relatable for the pupils.  

There are many mathematical principles behind the creation of computer games including: geometry, vectors, transformations, matrices and physics (Goodman, 2011). For example, matrices relate to 3D graphics. Many games nowadays take place in a 3D virtual world. Objects and charactrs are created from a set of 3D points. As explained by (Wilkins, n.d., p.3) “these points are stored in a data structure as columns of coordinates relative to a convenient local coordinate system. These objects are manipulated (moved, rotated, scaled) to their desired shap and orientation then positioned in the world by a ‘change of coordinates’ to the world coordinate system”.

Not only is there fundamental mathematics behind the creation of the games but also for playing them. For example, one of the main mathematical skills required to succeed in playing most games is problem solving. In most popular and common games such as, FIFA, Call of Duty and Minecraft there are usually scenarios which require the player to overcome or solve (Tassi, 2016). For example, in FIFA players need to think strategically to work out the best way to tackle other players to get ball possession and the best angle for scoring goals (another mathematical concept!) The creators of these games need to look at the aspect of probability, to ensure players do not encounter the same obstacles all the time or so that they need to defeat these obstacles in different ways.

It is interesting to note that it is stereotypically boys who are deemed to be good at mathematics and science (Coughlan, 2015). Also, it is stereotypically boys who play more computer games (54%) (Takahashi, 2013). Could this therefore prove that video/computer games can enhance mathematical ability? Obviously, this is not a completely accurate argument considering that these are stereotypes, but it does account for the research you find on the two subjects.

As mentioned previously, I never realised the links between mathematics and computing and will therefore ensure that when I am teaching computing in the future I will make the links clear to pupils. Not only this, but hopefully encourage reluctant learners, who struggle with mathematics, that they are able to apply what they know to something fun and creative.


Coughlan, S. (2015). Clever girls lack confidence in science and maths. BBC News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Goodman, D. (2011). The Use of Mathematics in Computer Games. NRICH. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Ma, L. (1999). Knowing and teaching elementary mathematics : teachers’ understanding of fundamental mathematics in China and the United States. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Takahashi, D. (2013). More than 1.2 billion people are playing games. VentureBeat. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Tassi, P. (2016). Here Are The Five Best-Selling Video Games Of All Time. Forbes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Wilkins, K. (n.d.). MATHEMATICS FOR COMPUTER GAMES TECHNOLOGY. [ebook] Bathurst. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

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