I still remember how I learned about the Mayans. It was from the movie 2012, in which the plot highlights the end of a baktun, a 394-year cycle in the Maya calendar. Other than that, I didn't know anything about its geographical context, culture or technology advances. Fortunately, Dig-It! Games contacted Camila and me regarding their latest game entitled Mayan Mysteries.
Mayan Mysteries starts off with a comic strip of Alex Quinn and his nephew, Charlie, and niece, Fiona, as they leave on a journey to Central America to help the local authorities save ancient Maya sites from the irresponsible hands of the looters. Through many activities, games and puzzles, the app takes you to multiple cities and sites. It also introduces you to various Maya artifacts, histories, and cultural heritage.
In each location, you will see four or more characters that you can tap. They will then tell you some information that will lead you one step closer to catch a mysterious thief that has been secretly leaving clues for the authorities. Most of these information also comes with a puzzle or test that you have to complete. Here are some of the activities that you will find frequently throughout the game:
- Multiple-choice questions to test your reading comprehension
- Labeling and coloring maps to test your geographical knowledge
- Identifying artifacts using both textual and graphical clues
- Choosing the appropriate archaeological tools to dig up artifacts at excavation sites
- Finding hidden objects
- Decoding Maya glyphs to solve riddles
- Learning the Maya numeral system that are commonly used for trading and calendaring
- Learning the Maya calendar system
Parents Need to Know
Designed for juniors aged 11 and up, Mayan Mysteries requires a good reading skill. The game cleverly hides many complexities in the engaging storyline, but there are still a lot of information to digest. Based on my experience, the challenges are quite difficult even for adults so I would advise accompanying your juniors when they play.
If you follow the game until the end, your overall impression will shift from playing an adventure game to learning about the Maya civilization. The game takes you back and forth between Alex's modern world and the ancient timeline between 500-800 AD when the Maya civilization reached their peak. Most of the facts in this game are based on many researches by the late Robert J. Sharer, an American archaeologist who specializes in Maya civilization.
I really appreciate many of the stories that are told by the ancient Maya characters as they allow me to gain better understanding of what it's like to live in their time. There are many things to learn, such as the existence of social classes, the conflicts between kingdoms over trade routes and war prisoners, and the absence of vehicles and pack animals like horses and mules that forced the Maya people to carry goods on their backs.
I do have one caution for parents as the storyline includes a detailed description on human sacrifice, a common practice for the Maya during a big celebration. However, as long as you are available to guide your juniors, I believe this can become a good learning ground for them to acknowledge mistakes from previous civilizations.
Things I Like
It should be noted that the game has a lot of content. Thankfully, there is a giant index that allows you to traverse from one content to the next via hyperlinks that are available in almost all of the pages. It's too bad that once you have finished the game, you won't be able to access this index anymore. You'll have to restart the game if you want to browse it.
I also appreciate how the app features an excellent set of voiceovers for all of the characters featured in the story. As there is a lot of text in the app, I found it helpful and convenient to turn on the automatic voiceover setting.
As a math geek, I love the Maya mathematical system. Instead of using a 10-base decimal system like ours, they have a 20-base system that they use in their trading activities and in their calendaring system. The game allows you to learn this math system and apply it to various challenges throughout the game.
The other part that I really enjoy is learning about the Maya calendaring systems. They have several systems that they use at the same time, and it's really cool to be able to understand what they are and how to write them in Maya glyphs. I believe the game has taught me a lot about the Maya culture in just a few days.
I really appreciate the way Mayan Mysteries starts out as an archeological-theme game, but grows to become an excellent learning tool about the Maya culture. The production quality is top notch and the vast knowledge base will satisfy the most curious of juniors. Now even I feel like I know a lot about the Maya people, their major kingdoms and sites, their mathematical system, their calendars as well as many archaeological terms and techniques.
By the way, if you have a Mac or a PC, you can also play Mayan Mysteries online through the Dig-It! Games website. If you are a teacher and would like to use the game in a classroom setting, they also have a Classroom Edition that can be used with up to 30 students.
Update: Dig-It! Games have kindly provided a discount code for readers of Geek With Juniors! Simply enter the code GEEKSPECIAL when you check out on their shop to get a single-user license of the online version, typically $21.99, for the price of the app - only $9.99. Offer is valid until February 17, 2013.
Note: Thank you to the fantastic folks at Dig-it! Games for sharing a promo code with us. Mayan Mysteries has single-handedly changed my perspectives of the Maya culture. Bravo!