Algebra, graphing calculators, dysentery | ENBLE

Algebra, graphing calculators, dysentery | ENBLE

The Timeless Appeal of Graphing Calculators: From Math to Games

TI-84 Calculator

Of the many stories my children have to endure from their tech-obsessed parent, one of their favorites (in my mind, anyway), is when I regale them with tales of what tech was like when I was their age. Computers were the sizes of filing cabinets, the internet was slow and clunky, and digital cameras were a luxury. But amidst the ever-changing technological landscape, one device that has stood the test of time is the graphing calculator. The venerable TI (Texas Instruments) graphing calculator, specifically the TI-84 model, has been a constant companion for students, aiding them in their mathematical quests. However, one aspect of the graphing calculator that hasn’t changed much over the years is its ability to transcend its primary purpose and serve as a gaming device.

Back in my day, not long after the advent of the Game Boy, the game of choice on the graphing calculator was Snake. Countless hours were spent maneuvering that ever-growing pixelated snake across the grayscale screen. It may not have been much, but it was a welcome respite from the monotony of math class. So, it comes as no surprise that when I purchased a graphing calculator for my eighth-grader, the first thing I did was find a way to load it up with games. Responsible parenting, right?

Spaze Invaders on a TI-84 Calculator

Having not touched a graphing calculator or delved into the complex world of trigonometric functions for about three decades, I was clueless as to how we would go about installing games on this ancient device. However, to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a breeze. After a momentary disappointment at the sight of a mini-USB port instead of the more modern USB-C, a quick online search provided the solution.

Armed with instructions, it took us a mere five minutes to transfer a selection of games onto the calculator. Oregon Trail was an absolute necessity, a decision that proved to be wise. “How did I die already?” my daughter exclaimed. I knew the response before even posing the question. “Dysentery? You have died of dysentery?” “Yeah,” she replied, clearly engrossed in the game.

This little project of adding games to the graphing calculator was already paying off, tickling that nostalgic part of the brain that craves the simpler times. It was equally satisfying to discover that at one point, TI had closed the software loophole that allowed for game installations. Fortunately, a quick upload through the official TI app circumvented this restriction. It was a far cry from the hacking and jailbreaking escapades we engaged in with Android phones and iPhones to enhance their functionality.

Tetric A on a TI-84 Calculator

Our first week with the games-enabled TI calculator was a delight. It was fascinating to observe my daughter, who is accustomed to the app-filled wonderland of her iPhone, using a device with a low-resolution screen and physical buttons that were never intended to function as a game controller. Half the time, I struggled to figure out how to exit these games myself. Perhaps the appeal lies in the novelty of using a device and playing games that were abandoned by the mainstream as touchscreens took over the world.

The early frontrunner in our gaming adventures was “Spaze Invaders” (a clever renaming of “Space Invaders” to avoid any legal entanglements). Of course, Oregon Trail will forever hold a special place in our hearts. But yes, amidst the fun and games, there were moments where the calculator served its original purpose, helping with algebraic expressions, variables, and graphs. After all, that’s what we bought it for in the first place.