The Story of Phoenix Quest: How girls respond to a prototype language and mathematics computer game

  • De Jean J
  • Upitis R
  • Koch C
 et al. 
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This article describes a case study of six girls' experiences with the Phoenix Quest computer game. In addition Io the case study, a supplementary large-scale study of the reactions of both boys and girls to the same computer game was conducted for comparative analysis. Phoenix Quest (PQ) was designed not only to encourage children to explore language and mathematics, but also to offer game features that would especially appeal to girls. Participants in the case study were given opportunities to become acquainted with PQ for several months before being observed and interviewed. Four issues that emerged as being important to the participants were (a) presentation of the story in a non-linear formal, (b) appreciation for the problem-solving elements of PQ (c) identification with the main character (female), and (d) lack of awareness of the mathematics embedded within the game. The findings provided evidence that PQ appealed to girls because the protagonist was of their age and gender, and because the puzzles and searches were engaging throughout the game. Some aspects of the game, however, were less successful; for instance, the non-linear story formal was disconcerting to all but one of the participants, and only one student identified the mathematics in the game structure. The large-scale study involved 41 boys and 57 girls, aged 8-12, from four junior school classes (Grades 4, 5 and 6). The aggregate data collected showed that more girls than boys used the postcard-writing feature of PQ, and appreciated following the adventures of a female protagonist. More boys than girls were reported to offer advice to other students, discuss the game during their free time, and observe others playing the game. Some boys even formed groups to exchange information and game-playing strategies. Also, more boys than girls recognised the mathematics embedded within the game. Although these studies did not focus on teacher-student interaction, the finding that more than 25% of participating students were not able to identify the mathematics embedded in PQ, supports supplementary instruction on the part of a teacher as a requirement for making the mathematics more salient. Further research to address this issue is strongly recommended. Both the case study and the large-scale study revealed that among computer games, PQ's uncommon approach of celebrating and challenging a female protagonist is important to girls. This does not suggest that the presentation of a female protagonist will discourage boys from playing and enjoying the game. On the contrary, our findings showed that boys were also engaged by PQ, a game that encourages cooperative play and group problem-solving. In the realm of computer games, gender identification plays a key role, in first capturing the attention of girls, and then sustaining their interest, enjoyment and participation.

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  • Jillian De Jean

  • Rena Upitis

  • Corina Koch

  • Jonathan Young

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