Hello, and welcome to our new series which picks out interesting things that we’d love someone to make a game about.
This isn’t a chance for us to pretend we’re game designers, more an opportunity to celebrate the range of subjects games can tackle and the sorts of things that seem filled with glorious gamey promise.
Check out our ‘Someone should make a game about’ archive for all our pieces so far.
Before we begin, please be warned that I know almost nothing about maths. If you’re after something intelligent on the subject I am not the person for you and this is not the piece. Apologies! Sincere apologies.
Even so, despite knowing nothing about maths – despite it being apparent at a very early age that I was always going to struggle in this field – I will never forget the thrill of learning the nine times table.
I hated the times tables, which seemed to combine maths and singing in public, the two things I feared most, because in our classroom back in the day we learned the tables by sitting on the green mat all together and sort of chanting out the numbers. Chanting in rhythm was hard enough, but I was also generally uncertain as to the actual answers, so while everyone else chanted “Five times five is twenty-five” I would have to build in a bit of hedging: “Five times five is twenty-fwerurgh-ive.” It was clear that I wasn’t cut out for this stuff.
But then we reached nine. Five had been pretty easy really, but six, seven and eight were a slog. I still hate the eight times table. It’s the K2 of times tables, no base camps available in my memory even now, and all the numbers involved seemed ugly and awkward,
But then nine! And suddenly: patterns everywhere! Let’s pretend for a minute that you don’t know the nine times table just so I can tell you this amazing stuff about it. When it comes to the answers, one number goes up each time, one number goes down each time and – I still get giddy at this – add the two numbers together and you always get nine!
I know, right. I know. Right. Back then, the nine times table was my first glimpse of something which I have since heard to be deeply true: there are beautiful patterns in numbers, a spiralling galaxy of shapes and repeating forms, clever, playful little rhythms, which might as well be the background music of the universe. I see this in the nine times table, and I see it, occasionally, in ways that I can never articulate, when I’m deep into a clicker game and the upgrades are starting to settle into a chuntering kind of machine pace, where the periods of being underpowered and overpowered start to assume the shape you might get on a heart-rate monitor, or so it seems. At these times, I feel myself on the brink, on the bright edge of the numbered abyss, a universe of swirling order beneath me, churning and circling.
Anyway, I was talking about the nine times table at work the other day – for me, it really is where my maths education pretty much ended, and I’m as ashamed of that as I could be. A colleague showed me this cool thing you can do with your fingers to get the nine times table solution. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but if you raise all 10 fingers, and then lower the finger that you’re searching for the answer for – the third finger, say, for nine times three – the solution is right there before you, two fingers on one side, seven on the other. The nine times table is the one we carry within us! Incredible stuff!