If there’s one thing I’ve learned from perusing this blog, it is watch Steven Universe…
“We are the Crystal Gems, we’ll always save the day and even if we can’t we’ll always find a way,” declares the theme and thesis of Steven Universe. The Cartoon Network show was created by Rebecca Sugar, a writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time, for audiences ten and older but has been referred to as “all-ages entertainment” for its broad appeal. Children who love Adventure Time’s creative, bright, energetic style will enjoy Steven Universe. Blending elements of anime, video games, science fiction with catchy songs and gorgeous visuals Steven Universe explores and celebrates themes of family and community as well as individuality and self-reliance.
The titular Steven Universe lives in a beach house in the Crystal Temple with the three Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. The gems are humanoid alien beings with magical powers and the ability to fuse together by dancing. Steven’s mother was a gem–the leader of the Gems, in fact!–making Steven half-gem, but she passed away before the show began. Steven’s curiosity about his mother’s life and powers are occasionally explored on the show. Steven’s father, an erstwhile musician turned car wash attendant, is around for heart-to-hearts, snack attacks and silly songs, but Steven lives with the Gems at the temple, instead of the with his dad.
If describing the show sounds kooky, it’s just the tip of a kooky iceberg, but its kookiness does not detract from positive stories with meaningful messages. And although at times it can feel like information overload, there is something considered to the way the show plays with gender roles, references and social life. Sugar, talking about the show, states: “My goal with the show was to really tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children because I think that’s a really absurd idea that there would be something radically different about a show for little girls versus a show for little boys.” For example, Steven’s crush Connie Maheswaran loves video games and Steven has a pink lion named Lion. Steven Universe is educational in the way all cultural objects present and reinforce ideas about who can succeed and how, especially in relation to fostering social intelligence and providing positive representations of people of color and queer family and body positivity.
Some parents viewers may not agree with the show’s depiction of a non-traditional family, Steven being raised by three moms, for example, while others have praised its representations of queer characters and relationships and still others, like Common Sense Media describe “a truly likable group camaraderie and lots of strong female characters”.
From Bossa Studios, the makers of Surgeon Simulator 2013 and BAFTA Games Awards winning Thomas Was Alone, comes Twelve a Dozen, a mathematical platformer game. Players control a flopsy-armed, number-headed humanoid through a vibrant, high-contrast cityscape. The player is met by a talkative, floating orb in the beginning who names the protagonist Twelve for the number on their head. Your floating orb friend, the decimal point, helps explain the mechanics of the game as the need arises in play. The goal is to make your way through Dozenopolis by completing puzzles that require Twelve’s head to display specific numbers and rescue Twelve’s family. To display those numbers Twelve can pick up “numbles” and subtract, add, divide and multiply them with the one on her head. Different numbers give twelve different abilities. As players progress through the game the puzzles become more tricky, requiring multiple additions and subtractions. When things get tricky, rather than resulting in a “game over” or “death” as games sometimes do, when a player fails to complete a puzzle properly or if they fall into traps, the scene is rewound and players are allowed to attempt the puzzle again.
The game, which advertises itself as suitable for ages 4 and up, is listed as suitable for ages 5 and up on Common Sense Media. I would agree, but would remind parents that experts advise limited screen time for little ones.
The game is available on iOs devices-iPad, iPhones, and iTouch-for $3.99. Not everyone has an iOs device, and at $3.99 the game is on the pricey side for apps, given that 90% of apps are free but with 30 levels to play, Twelve a Dozen’s has high replay value that will have children engaged with adding and subtracting numbers and completing puzzles throughout the world of Dozenopolis. This high replay value reinforces the game’s goal of giving players an avenue to practice their mathematical skills.
Children’s Technology Review gives Twelve a Dozen a 10 of 10 for Educational and describes the game, “Math equations never looked (or sounded) so good, in this nicely illustrated maze adventure”. Elsewhere a review for the Dayton daily news describes the game as “a rare gem that offers kids an opportunity to truly learn through gameplay.” and rates the app 5/5 for education and 5/5 for quality.
Reviews refer to Twelve using female pronouns, and our friend the floating orb, the decimal point, is voiced by actress and comedian Lucy Montgomery. Twelve a Dozen is a fun game that encourages girls to strengthen their math skills, flipping the script on gender expectations much like Steven Universe.
“Twelve A Dozen.” Children’s Technology Review 23.8 (2015): 17. MAS Ultra – School Edition. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
“Twelve a Dozen App Makes Math Fun for Kids ; This Beautifully Rendered Game has 30 Levels to Explore.” Dayton Daily News 2015: vLex. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.