Sig Fig Rules!–Master Your Significant Digits Here (A Learning Game Contest Example)

[Edit 09.05.13] SigFig is now accessible through our primary chemistry learning web app, Study Putty.

In the preceding weeks we launched our Learning Game Contest, seeking submissions of science/math learning game concepts and offering the prize of a $100 Amazon or iTunes gift card along with the chance of seeing that idea implemented in a playable game. With the intention of demonstrating the sort of concept we’re looking for, and to show how your concept could become a working game, we recently published Sig Fig Rules! online.

If you have ever taken a chemistry course, whether in high school or college, you may remember the lesson on significant digits. If your response to being asked to identify significant and insignificant digits was, like mine, “Discrimination! Who am I to tell a number his existence is insignificant?” you, like me, might have benefited from a learning tool such as this.

With practice of a concept comes mastery, and, sometimes, a flash of insight into what it all means. What I ultimately took away from sig digs was, “I guess some zeroes are created more equal that others.” On the other hand, a rather concise and insightful Wikipedia editor may have summarized it better: “the significant figures of a number are those digits that carry meaning contributing to its precision.” If you come to understand the Zen-like simplicity and beauty of this statement while practicing your sig digs, you’re doing it right, my friend.

We can imagine that a student out there somewhere wrote up a proposal for a learning game that reinforces the concept of significant digits and bravely entered this proposal in our contest. We can further imagine that we liked it so much that we decided to see it made. We even honored our friendly and creative hypothetical contributor by immortalizing that person’s name in the finished game.

However, should your curiosity take you to explore Sig Fig Rules!, and you click on the credits button, you’ll see only the names of our development team, because we haven’t found that creative and worthy contributor yet. Maybe that’s where you come in. It’s not exactly having your name up in lights, but–well, actually, technically it is. It would most likely be displayed in the tiny, tiny little LCD lights of your Internet browsing device of choice. So maybe you could say you’ve had your name in lights, not necessarily in a resume or a pick-up line, but at the very least I think it’d be okay to say it to yourself in the mirror, you know, if you need that sort of thing.

Actually, in regards to a resume, “Winner of the 2013 Learning-Laboratory Learning Game Ideation Contest” sounds pretty good and could make a decent piece of resume padding, I think… I’m not so sure about the pick-up line. But if you’re the winner we believe you are, you probably have plenty of those already.

There are many directions we could take a game in development, and much of that depends upon the original concept and the creative flavor that has been presented in the entrant’s submission, but here with the case of Sig Fig Rules! we have a simple, classic design that reminds me of the vintage learning games of my childhood–does anybody else remember the greatness that was Number Munchers?

The game play is relatively straight forward: good guy Sig Fig (he’s a fig–get it?) represents the forces of significance, while the misunderstood antihero Zed Zero is trapped in the existential crisis of questioning his own significance as a digit. He expresses his youthful angst by dressing like a pirate. I blame his notion that it is fashionable to express one’s angst this way on a certain popular movie franchise. We owe these initial character designs to our chief programmer at the Sheridan Programmers Guild, Anne. These were then refined and animated by our staff design artist Wolfgang.

Matt, our resident code-shaman, wrote the website and its functionality. It began, however, with the idea-kernel that came from our headwoman’s canny daughter, Rebecca, drawing, I presume, upon her experience as a chemistry teaching assistant. It is this byline that could be yours: “concept by” you.

You–you your very self–can play Sig Fig Rules! here and see just how it turned out. And if, by chance, you need a little bit of extra practice for that upcoming Chem I test, here is your opportunity, my friend. Top scorers in the game will be issued a black belt in significant figures*.

*Not really.

   Click to play Sig Fig Rules!   Click to play Sig Fig Rules!

You can view the rules for reckoning significant digits in a handy cheat sheet here.

For another example of how our team at the Sheridan Programmers Guild has developed a learning game concept, see our recent article on a game for pharmacy students, Bug Out!, which showcases a very different graphical feel.

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About Bret Norwood

Bret Norwood is a staff blogger for Learning Laboratory in addition to other roles, including UI design and content development for Study Putty, our free memorization tool for chemistry and many other course topics. He is also a published writer of literary fiction--see

2 Responses to Sig Fig Rules!–Master Your Significant Digits Here (A Learning Game Contest Example)

  1. Sharon Gardlund says:

    Game is good but since I teach online on the college gen chem level it is way too basic; would love to see game where you give a computation and a calculator answer and ask how many significant figures are allowed! And, one level up, give answer to correct number of sig fig’s… what a lovely game that would be…

    • Anne Gunn says:

      We agree, the current version of the game is just a starting place for conversation, not a finished tool by any means. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

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