MET:Math Blaster - Massively Multiplayer Online

From UBC Wiki

Contributed by: Brendan Alexander, 2013

Math Blaster MMO Ages 6-12 - Released by Knowledge Adventure in 2011


Math Blaster is part of the Blaster Learning system, originally designed by Davidson & Associates in 1983 and later acquired by Knowledge Adventure in the late 1990s as part of a merger between the two large educational software developers. The game, which has spawned more than 10 sequels over the span of 4 decades, has become one of the most popular educational software series in production. The success of the Math Blaster series also persuaded Davidson to create the Reading Blaster series in 1994, a shorter-lived Science Blaster spinoff in 1996, and a CBS morning Cartoon, produced by Nelvana, called “Blaster’s Universe”.[1]

The series went through a number of stand-alone builds prior to releasing the subscription-based Math Blaster: Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO), an online version of the game that would employ an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) environment, complete with mini-games, missions, character development and customization, and a community feature that allows gamers to interact with one and other within the structure of the gameplay. The MMO version of Math Blaster was released in 2011 and is intended for children ages 6-12.[2]

Gaming Environment


Math Blaster MMO takes place on a space station in the Math Blaster universe. Players begin by creating their Cadet, and then proceed to meet their guide, the Galactic Commander (G.C.), who leads them through various tasks around the space station before players are allowed freedom to explore the space station and play games. The narrative does not follow a set storyline, rather it features a theme of good vs. evil whereby the players are part of the Intergalactic Space Patrol, that defends the space station against threats from space.

How to Play

File:Math Blaster dashboard.jpg
Math Blaster Dashboard

Users must login to the game through the Math Blaster website. Once logged in they access a dashboard with updates, messages, buddies, challenges, rankings, credits, high scores and other Math Blaster features.

Gameplay begins by creating a Cadet and pet Mutt. After customizing the Cadet you are lead through some basic introductory stages of gameplay by the G.C., such as feeding and playing with your Mutt, and visiting and customizing your home 'pod'. After that, players are allowed to freely guide their Cadet through the space station environment using your keyboard, mouse or controller. Users can access mini-games or other in-game features in different rooms throughout the space station. Each mini-game has a specific set of controls that are instructed to the user the first time they play.

File:Gameplay screen.jpg
Gameplay Screen

Icons that frame the gameplay screen allow the player to chat with other users on his/her B.F.F. list, customize their Cadet, check messages, rankings, statistics and settings on their bPad, access the space station map, decorate his/her home 'pod', quick launch directly to mini-games, contact moderators and shop the online store.

In addition, Cadets can challenge each other in multiplayer games and challenges such as Galaxy Grand Prix and the Nebulata Knockout, where they get to train their pet Mutt and battle other players' Mutts.

In addition, parents may access certain settings through their own login, where they have the ability to managed their child's interactions, monitor progress, and even turn off the community aspect of gameplay.

Cadet Creation

The Molecular Modulator

At the beginning of the game users are prompted to create their Cadet. First they pick a name from a number of preset names, or through a randomization function. Next, the users customize their Cadet's appearance through a number of characterizations such as gender, hair style, head, eye shape, mouth shape and skin color. The user can alter these characteristics at any time during the course of gameplay in the Molecular Modulator. In addition, players can unlock new appearance features through achievements within gameplay or through online purchases.


Another mini-play aspect of the game is creating, maintaining and upgrading a pet alien, called a 'Mutt'. When the game begins users customize their pet Mutt from 3 preset aliens: Grubbles, Ickasaurs and Eye-Clops. After creating their Mutt users must maintain its health by feeding it and playing with it. In addition, players can design their Mutt's sleeping pod. Through achievements and online purchases users are able to upgrade and customize their pet, in much the same way a player customizes his or her Cadet.

As the game progresses, players are also able to train their Mutts and have them battle in the Nebula Knockout game.


Mathblaster MMO features a wide variety of mini-games that teach a number of basic Math skills. Cadets navigate around the Space Station and find the games throughout the map. As they play the games they earn achievements that can be used to upgrade their Cadet, Mutt or pod.

Some popular games are:

Users race Blaster pods in the Galaxy Grand Prix. Users can play premade tracks, other users' tracks or build their own. In addition, users can customize their own pods. Users have the option of racing by themselves or head-to-head against an in-game friend in mutiplayer mode.

Blasters fire a B-Force laser cannon at alien targets in attempt to hit as many targets as possible before time runs out, in an attempt to achieve a high score. The game helps users learn blasting controls that they will use throughout other games.

A matching game whereby users must match fractions, pictures and objects in order to re-energize as many robots as they can and save them from being crushed by the conveyor belt. Users earn points as the re-energize the robots.

Blasters navigate a course of obstacles while collecting shields, blasting targets for points, and solving arithmetic problems delivered by alien math-bots. The game uses piloting controls learned in Galaxy Grandprix, combined with blaster controls learned in B-Force Blaster.

Players must answer math problems while being bucked off the back of an alien slug. As users answer questions correctly, they stay on the back of the slug. Their goal is to stay on the slug for as long as possible to earn a high score. Unlike other games, players in the rodeo is viewable to other users from the audience section.

Players use 'zappers' to blast down incoming asteroids that are being launched at the space station. Each asteroid is marked with a number. The players are provided with arithmetic problems and must blast the asteroid with the correct number to protect the space station and earn points.

The user must bridge a pool of green ooze by completing math questions. The player must jump on platforms by correctly solving problems related to decimals, dollar values and place value. The user must correctly answer the questions to leap from platform to platform without falling, to save the space station and earn points.


Math Blasters is a MMORPG style game whereby multiple users play simultaneously within an evolving gameplay environment. Users are able to interact with each other through a variety of in game options such as chats and messages. In addition, users are able to add one-and-other to their B.F.F. lists to encourage continual interaction and relationship building. Users also compete against each other to earn achievments, increase their rank, and even be championed “Mathlete of the Week"[3]. Cadets can challenge one and other in multiplayer training games, and even compete in events such as the Space Olympics[4]. As an extension of the community, the “Math Blaster Times”[5] updates users on weekly happenings, such as screenshot of the week, Mutt pod of the week, and other achievements within the community.


Math Blaster helps to ensure safe interactions by offering 2 levels of chat and messaging: Safe Menu Chat and Safe Type Chat. Safe Menu Chat allows users to chat using pre-selected phrases and emoticons[6]. Safe Type Chat provides more freedom, but limits interactions to approved words and phrases; although the company does warn that "messages that may be offensive to some players may get through the filters in Safe Type Mode"[7]. Parental controls also act as an insurance against online dangers; parents are able to approve additions to their child's B.F.F. list, turn off Cadet names, monitor interactions and even toggle off MMO mode[8] In addition, Math Blaster has been certified by the Kid Safe Seal Program.

Relevance to Educational Theory

Constructivism: The 'Zone of Proximal Development' and 'Scaffolding'

Lev Vytgosky's 'Zone of Proximal Development' (ZPD), a core value of Constructivism, is defined as the level between assisted development and independent development[9]. As per Constructivist theory, it is in this zone where the teacher must focus attention and assist learners to the point of independent learning. This assistance is called 'scaffolding'. Scaffolding should be adapted to fit individual users based on their learning needs[10]. Math Blaster employs instructional scaffolding throughout early stages of gameplay; users are guided by the G.C. on how to complete missions such as feeding and caring for their Mutts, and customizing their home 'pods'. In addition, each mini-game begins with and instructional mode which shows the user the basics of gameplay. As the player makes mistakes or struggles with gameplay, they are not provided negative reinforcement; rather, they are given additional chances and then provided with the correct answers to aid future learning[11]. In order to further adapt to the needs of individuals learners, each game features three skill levels: easy, medium and hard. This allows users to situate their learning within the correct ZPD and be supported, through gameplay and instruction, to greater levels of achievement.

Communities of Practice

Socio-Cultural Learning theorists Barab and Duffy define the term ‘Community of Practice’, originally conceived by Etienne Wenger[12], as involving "a collection of individuals sharing mutually defined practices, beliefs, and understandings over an extended time frame in the pursuit of a shared enterprise”[13]. It is rooted in the principles of Situated Cognition[14], which theorizes that “learning is always situated and progressively developed through activity" [15]. Consequently, there is a required paradigm shift within instruction from traditional methods that rely on the transferring of information from teacher to student, to “engaging the learner in authentic tasks that are likely to require the use of those concepts or skills” [16]. Math Blaster successfully creates a community of practice where users cooperate within the game environment to gain experience, achievement and knowledge. Players communicate and explore together, play multiplayer challenges, and build knowledge through activity rather than through traditional methods of rote learning. The community extends outside the game with blogs and wikis dedicated to improving the gaming experience and offering tips on gameplay.

Theory of Online Learning

Terry Anderson's Towards a Theory of Online Learning[17] outlines four lenses with which all online learning should be analyzed: learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered and community-centered. Although Anderson's theory is intended for Online Learning Communities, such as those found in universities and schools, it still provides a key method of analysis for the effectiveness of online learning communities such as Math Blaster MMO.


Learner-centred activities utilize “diagnostic tools and activities to make visible these pre-existing knowledge structures to both the teacher and the students themselves” [18]. While Math Blaster lacks the human element to employ an investigative approach to the learner’s pre-existing knowledge base, as say a teacher might, the mini-games are structured so that users ‘ramp-up’ from relying on their pre-exiting knowledge to acquiring new knowledge. This ‘ramp-up’ occurs as difficult increases throughout each mini-game. In addition, games such as ‘Bolt-Cruncher’ and ‘Zapper Turret Training' let users choose their in-game learning path, allowing them to bypass certain paths that they may already be familiar with. Throughout Math Blaster, learners are encouraged to explore new areas of gameplay and challenge themselves to build on their pre-existing knowledge base.


Online learning should be knowledge-centered as “effective learning is both defined and bound by the epistemology, language, and context of disciplinary thought” [19]. Math Blaster’s mini-games, such as ‘Bolt-Cruncher’, ‘HyperBlast’, ‘Zapper Turret Training’ and ‘Oozami’ are structured around the knowledge base of elementary mathematics, such as equations, fractions, decimals and geometry. Math Blaster’s games are situated well within the epistemic framework that students would encounter in school. Thus, Math Blaster is truly knowledge-centred, as it effectively supplements basic math education.


Assessment-centered design incorporates “formative evaluation and summative assessment that serve to motivate, inform, and provide feedback to both learners and teachers” [20]. Math Blaster relies on high-scores, achievements and rankings to motivate users to improve their understanding of basic mathematics within the game format. G.C. provides positive feedback throughout the game, praising the player for accomplishments, and providing feedback on how to improve[21]. While certain games, such as ‘Galaxy Grand Prix’ and ‘B-Force Blaster’, do not assess mathematics directly, they do assess the user’s ability to learn skills that will be essential for future gameplay.


For effective community-centred learning, “members of a learning community both support and challenge each other, leading to effective and relevant knowledge construction” [22]. Math Blaster’s user-community works together in a team environment as members of the Intergalactic Space Patrol. They support each other through online chat and messaging and community contributions (such as blogs and wikis). Simultaneously, Math Blaster has a built-in competitive mechanism whereby users challenge each other to multiplayer gameplay in mini-games such as ‘Nebula Knockout’ and ‘Galaxy Grand Prix’, or unlock achievements and new customizations in order to be recognized within the user-community.

File:4 Lenses.jpg
A Venn Diagram of the 4 Lenses from Anderson's Toward a Theory of Online Learning as they apply to gameplay features within Math Blaster

Serious Play Theory

Serious Play[23] theorists de Castell and Jenson outline the key aspects of making an effective, immersive, educational game. They highlight the following characteristics of good educational game design:

Immersive Environment

Math Blaster’s environment allows users to complete in-game tasks within the architecture of the space station environment. Players navigate the space station and chose pods to enter, where mini-games games are held. Since the entire environment of the space station is free to explore, users are able to play each mini-game within the greater context of an immersive world.

Narrative Rather than Propositional Structure

While there is no set narrative structure within Math Blaster, all interactivities within the gameplay are successfully integrated into the greater theme: helping the Intergalactic Space Patrol protect the space station against their alien enemies. Often, tasks in mini-games are presented as training regimen, whereby players are honing their skills in preparation for an enemy invasion. These tasks, though epistemic in nature, merge successfully within the games’ theme.

Role Enactment Rather than Self-Representation

Math Blaster allows users to create, control and customize their own characters. Throughout the gameplay, users will gain achievements that can be used to unlock and upgrade certain features for their Cadet and Mutt, such as new appearance options and equipment. Users become immersed in building their character through this merit-based system. Furthermore, users gain notoriety within the user-community under the guise of their Cadet, further compounding the immersive effect of role enactment within the Math Blaster universe.

Control through Consequence

The locus of control in Math Blaster occurs within the gameplay of each mini-game. There is no implicit failure within the game scenarios, rather they are structured to train and build success skills through positive reinforcement. Despite this, users may lose battles and races, miss targets, or answer questions incorrectly, directly effecting on their success within the game. In this way, the locus of control remains situated within each simulated task, rather than based on end-of-game assessments.

Enhanced Freedom

Following the early, guided stages of gameplay, users are granted complete freedom to explore, play and interact within the space station environment. Users are autonomous, restricted only by unlocked games, options and items, but otherwise allowed to play at their own speed and frequency.


Congruent with de Castell and Jenson’s theory, Math Blasters combines these elements to form "a playful immersion within an environment that places the player in control of his or her character and its activities”[24].

Application to Education

For Teachers

Math Blaster MMO is intended for children ages 6-12, but can be adapted to a variety of mathematical aptitude levels due to its multiple skill level settings. The MMORPG environment allows for students to play and interact over a network, making the game perfect for early elementary school math classes that have access to a number of computers or a computer lab with high speed internet. Teachers can have their students log-on and interact as a class through the gameplay while monitoring and supporting their progress. One restriction to the game's potential as an in-school educational tool is Math Blaster's paid subscription service, which may not be considered cost-effective for most schools.

Math Blaster should also be recommended by teachers as a means of supplementing school work, at home.

For Students

Math Blaster is an engaging, fun and safe way to learn the basics of elementary school mathematics. Students will be able to accelerate their learning through at home participation. Furthremore, students are given the opportunity to make online friends, through the social aspect of the game, that could be meaningful to their learning. The benefits of belonging to a learning community such as in Math Blaster, and the confidence gained through achievements within gameplay, have the potential to greatly effect lifelong success within mathematics.

For Parents

Math Blaster is an effective way for parents to build on their child's in-school mathematics learning. It allows children to learn actively through integrated, in-game learning that will challenge and engage. Gameplay accomplishments may have a positive impact on a child's self-worth, especially as related to mathematics. Safety provided through Safe Menu Chat and Safe Key Chat, paired with parental monitoring, enable parents to ensure the well-being of their child while simultaneously allowing them to track progress and support socialization within the gaming environment.

External links


  1. Blaster Learning System. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2013 from Wikipedia:
  2. Blaster Learning System. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2013 from Wikipedia:
  3. Math Blaster. Become Mathlete of the Week!. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from
  4. Math Blaster. Get Ready for the 2012 Space Olympics!. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from
  5. Math Blaster. Catch Up On All Your Intergalactic News. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from
  6. Chang, Aldric. Math Blaster – Cool Math Games Retrieved May 3, 2013, from
  7. Frequently Asked Questions – MMO Safe. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2013, from
  8. Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2013, from
  9. L.S. Vygotsky: Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, p. 86.
  10. Sawyer, R. Keith. (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press
  11. GamingNexus. "Math Blaster demo." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 3. Mar. 2013. Retrieved from
  12. Wenger, Etienne (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  13. Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. p. 13.
  14. Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, Educational Researcher, 18, 32-42.
  15. Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. p.5
  16. Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. p.7.
  17. Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University.
  18. Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. p. 47.
  19. Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. p. 49.
  20. Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. p. 49.
  21. GamingNexus. "Math Blaster demo." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 3. Mar. 2013. Retrieved from
  22. Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. p. 51.
  23. de Castell, Suzanne, & Jenson, Jennifer. (2003). Serious play. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(6), 649-665.
  24. de Castell, Suzanne, & Jenson, Jennifer. (2003). Serious play. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(6), p. 655.