TI-89 Calculator and the Helicopter Game

The helicopter game on the TI-89 calculator was a favorite for anyone taking Calculus in my Junior year of high school. The user interface was incredibly simple—a single button to control the height of your flying helicopter. The task of the game was equally simple—to guide your helicopter through a 2-D cave space. Apart from the game being intuitive, we all enjoyed the game because we could play it in class without our teachers knowing. There was also the comic effect of playing games on something meant for mathematical calculations. In reading “Acting with Technology”, the authors mention that “activity is proposed as the basic unit of analysis providing a way to understand both subjects and objects, an understanding that cannot be achieved by focusing on the subject or the object separately” [29]. In the same fashion, we can come to understand why such a simple game is so engaging for the users. The subjects are calculus students in high school listening to their teacher for an hour. The calculator is the medium by which one can play the helicopter game. Viewing the subject and object separately we lose understanding as to why the game is so engaging. Together we realize that the game itself has little meaning. The engagement stems from the tool—one which hides the users real intentions from the teacher.