My son came home from school one day a few months ago asking whether he could play yet another new video game a friend had told him about. This happens a couple of times a month—and often results in me researching the game and then disappointing him with my answer because whoa, not age-appropriate—so I didn’t commit right away. But it turns out that this particular game, called Prodigy, is both a really fun monster-battling, exploration game and a game of maths skills.
Prodigy is a fantasy-style game that is sort of a cross between Pokémon and Minecraft’s creative mode, with some maths equations thrown in. To earn money to customise their house, buy pets or earn prizes, they have to defeat monsters. To defeat monsters, they have to answer maths questions correctly to earn spells. The questions, which Prodigy says are aligned with grades 1-8 state-level curricula, including Common Core and TEKS, are tailored to each child’s strengths and weaknesses:
Prodigy determines your child’s skill level using a placement test, giving your child harder or easier questions as they play to figure out where they stand.
The placement test starts immediately and runs in the background as the game is played. It begins at one grade below the grade that you or your child selected when setting up their account, and then works upwards to determine your child’s actual grade level. After the test ends, the difficulty level continues to adapt, revisiting pre-requisites or jumping ahead depending on how your child performs.
My son, who is 9 years old, is currently most interested in helping some creatures called Floatlings to rebuild their home, which was—I think?—destroyed by the Puppet Master. I don’t know, there’s a lot going on in this game: battles, rescues, gems, mythical creatures, shopping, decorating and travelling to other worlds. It often sounds like another language to me, but I can tell by the excited way he talks about the game that he’s into all of it.
As for being able to chat with other users online, which is always one of my top concerns, Prodigy does have a messaging option, but it’s pretty locked down:
While the chats and friends list can’t be disabled, your students are always welcome to play in “offline” mode where all social elements are disabled and the game is populated by computer players. This is always accessible from the worlds selection screen after logging in.
Only pre-defined sentences that have been deemed safe have been added to the game. The users cannot type or send whatever they would like. This was put into place for privacy and security reasons for the students/children. No personal information, or inappropriate language can be typed out and seen by any other user.
Kids can play the game for free, but certain features and options will be unavailable under the basic membership. So if they like the game, be warned that they’ll pretty quickly want to upgrade to a premium membership for the extra bells and whistles (at a cost of $US4.99 ($7) per month for a year, $US7.95 ($12) per month for a six-month membership or $US8.95 ($13) on a regular month-to-month plan).
We started with the free membership and I tracked how much he actually played for about a month. Prodigy provides weekly summaries of how much they play, which maths skills they practiced and how proficient they were in different categories. Once I was confident that my son was sticking with it, I upgraded him to a monthly membership. Now that he’s had it and used it for a few months (he actually spends more time in the game now that the extras are unlocked), I may upgrade him to a six-month or annual plan.
My son mostly likes to play the web version of Prodigy on his Chromebook, but it’s also available as an app on iOS and Android. When I asked him whether he recommends it for other kids, he said he definitely does because “it teaches kids to do maths and it’s awesome.”