Some Games Are More Than Games

I have a general disdain for most cellphone and Facebook games. When people talk about “Flappy Bird,” I kind of cringe. When I see all the useless posts on Facebook that are generated by Farmville, Candy Crush Saga, and the like, I just shake my head.

Among these though are a few rare games that actually help you learn. More young people should take advantage of them — they are learning tools that weren’t available to me when I was in school. One in particular is a favorite of mine: Sporcle’s Periodic Table Quiz.


The game gives you fifteen minutes to name all 118 elements. The table is up to date: When Flerovium (114) and Livermorium (116) were given formal names in 2012, the game was updated soon after to include the newly-named elements.

The first time I played this game, I think I got around 90 elements before the time ran out. Before long though, the game became more of a typing speed test as I was limited mostly by having to backspace and retype. Then I started trying various modifications, like typing them in order of atomic number, or by period or group, or doing them in rough alphabetical order by typing them in according to what letter they start with, etc. That’s pretty hard: You think you’ve typed in all the C’s, then later you discover something like Copernicium is missing. Doh! There are various related games on Sporcle’s website, such as one that asks you to to type in all the elements with a single-letter symbol. But those other games are mostly lists and don’t offer you a graphical depiction of the periodic table as you type your answers in. It’s a fairly significant distinction, I think. When you type in “thorium” and see the element pop up on the periodic table, you are learning not only the name and correct spelling of the element, but it’s relative position to other elements on the table and what group and period it is in.

There are of course similar games on the internet that help memorize things such as maps. Do a Google search for “map quiz” and you’ll come up with scores of such games, with the same educational value of Sporcle’s Periodic Table Quiz.

I never see any of these games appear on my Facebook feed for some reason. Yet the games that people do play on Facebook require just as much concentration. Otherwise, people wouldn’t play them. The whole point of a game is that it’s challenging, after all. Yet while Sporcle’s Periodic Table Quiz requires you to learn the periodic table to master the game, Flappy Bird requires you to learn to hit the up/down arrow keys at the right times. Which of these two games will give you you knowledge that you can use in the real world?

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3 Responses to Some Games Are More Than Games

  1. Rattlesnake says:

    I got 108/118 (first time). Damn lanthanides, actinides, period 7 transition metals, and tantalum.

    I’ve spent hours on Sporcle, mostly in the Geography section. I guess I should spend more time on the periodic table. I tried naming all the elements in order, but I could only name up to titanium in order.

    • I’ve done them in order before, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do that now. There’s always one or two that I screw up, at least. Try doing the A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. I’ll get down to M and then notice I missed gold or actinium or something.

      I’ve done the other chemistry quizzes on Sporcle, but I really prefer this one since I have the visual of the periodic table in front of me.

  2. LOL! Played around with this for a couple of days to refresh my memory. Just completed them BACKWARDS, from 118 to 1. 😀

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