Learning math (&+) playing Yu-Gi-Oh! for PS2

This analysis applies elements of my Theory of Learning to the strategy game Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses for PlayStation 2, developed by Konami Computer Entertainment, ©1996 by Kazuki Takahashi. You might know the card game, but the PS game is a little different.

I was always impressed how my 2 sons (6 & 11 today) have developed math reasoning while playing this game for years. Both are above average in school on math, and although this is certainly not caused only by the game (we usually play with numbers and calculations, genetics might have played its part etc.), I believe part of that development came from playing the game, which I also love to play.

Although Yu-Gi-Oh is not an educational game, to briefly explore my guess I will apply to it the 4 principles of my theory of learning: student-centered, constructed, authentic and distributed.

1. Student-Centered

The player needs to win a battle to be able to explore new territories and fight new opponents; so, as you progress on the game you win the prize of challenging new duelists. This automatically creates a player-centered experience: we know we have progressed, so each time we fight the duelists we are capable of. It works like if learning is individualized and our results are directly determined by our choices related to numbers and calculations, observations, strategy and decision-making.


Customization of learning is also stimulated. The player first needs to choose to side with Yugi or Kaiba, which consequently determines the course of the game. Then he needs to choose from 3 initial deck options. Winning battles, he will collect cards and rearrange the deck as he wants, in order to fight new opponents.


We can say then that the player is responsible for customizing his learning environment, as he may choose even if he wants to fight a new opponent or continue fighting someone he has already defeated, in order to collect cards for a more difficult battle. In this sense, we can also say that the player participates directly on the decisions related to the process of construction of knowledge.

2. Constructed

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh the user actively explores, searches and discovers how to defeat new duelists, shaping and reshaping different types of knowledge during the process, while constantly monitoring his progress.


Although the outcome is only one and pre-defined – to defeat all the duelists, the process and path for that is totally open, depending on the user’s choices. Knowledge needed to progress on the game includes not only math reasoning (mainly adding, subtracting and comparing numbers), but also strategy and decision making skills, memory (knowing the duelist decks, for example) etc., which are constructed the more you play the game.

3. Authentic

Although the game is not authentic in the sense that you will ever fight a similar battle in your life, battles are pretty realistic, calling on the player’s total attention and math reasoning capabilities, as he needs to make critical decisions each turn, by fusing cards, guessing the opponents’ hands, previewing attack and defense points in different terrains etc.


In this sense, we can say the game generates deep engagement and flow experiences, as the battles are stimulating and dynamic.

Fields always have different spaces where the points of the cards change, so we can talk about multiple contexts for learning. A holistical reading of the field, including number of cards in the opponent’s hands, is also critical.

Math decisions during the game are critical to the success in the battles, so mastering calculations like adding and subtracting hundreds are a necessary skill to lead to victory.

4. Distributed

Math information is distributed throughout the game. Cards have attack and defense values which change in different terrains. Depending on the card position (horizontal or vertical), the attack or defense values are at stake. Some cards have its points dynamically altered, turn after turn. Magic and trap cards can also change these numbers, as combination of cards and the opponents cards and moves, besides many other variables.

So, different points of math stimulation are available to the player. Numbers and calculations are everywhere: the number of points you and your opponent have, the cards you have in hand, cards you have on the field, cards on the graveyards, the more than 600 3D monsters that you might potentially encounter, the numbers of cards you and your opponent still have not seen, everything related to your opponent, the magic and trap cards possible combinations, your deck’s total points (which define who you can and cannot battle) etc. We can say that, during the game, the player is constantly bombarded with the need to perform multiple calculations and make critical decisions based on different possible scenarios resulting from his choices, similarly to chess. Quickness is not a request for the game, but the more you play, the more you want to speed up, so you end up by calculating faster and faster, as if you were under pressure.

Game-Based Learning

Yu-Gi-Oh offers fun and pleasure from novices to experts, and I am never tired of playing and replaying it, either through new (or already played) battles or new turns.

Users learn math (as my sons did) playing, without knowing that they are learning anything – and without this being the formal purpose of the game. Calculations involve numbers from 50 to 1000s, always presupposing adding and subtracting fifties and usually hundreds. My 6 year-old son learned to work with these numbers and calculations when he was less than 4, while other kids in his age did not perform similar activities dealing with these kind of numbers.


The player decides the activities he wants to perform – who he wants to challenge, how he wants to arrange his deck, when he wants to reincarnate (give up a card for 3 new ones) etc., and he knows he will be “assessed” depending on these choices.

The game is really challenging – it is probably impossible to defeat all the duelists without losing some battles, but you should, after a lot of practice, effort and reviewed strategies, be able to reach the final battle – and win, although it becomes more and more difficult to win as new duelists show up.

Feedback is quick – you immediately know when you used a good card and, after minutes, you can guess if you might win or lose a battle (sometimes many minutes!).


I also believe a semiotic reading of the game would contribute a lot to this analysis. There are different stimuli during the game, besides numbers: visual, sound, graphics etc. which certainly scaffold the math learning informally (and/or unconsciously) embedded in the game.

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2 respostas a Learning math (&+) playing Yu-Gi-Oh! for PS2

  1. Pingback: De Mattar » Blog Archive » Playing to Learn: video games in the classroom

  2. heh i had that game once it was amazing i might buy it again :D

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