Solid evidence that gaming improves perception and motor skills – and that skills are transferable!

Some excellent studies have shown the value gaming has in motor skills, perception and decision making. Dye, Shawn Green and Bavelier have spent a number of years continuously experimenting and improving on their research surrounding whether people’s ability to make decisions or perceive things is affected by games. The overwhelming result is that gaming does have a significant impact on certain skills. Of particular interest is the conclusion drawn that, from these experiments, the assumption can be made that skills learned during gaming are transferable … a critical issue in education and learning fields.

One area that is confirmed to be improved is the ability to pay attention (attentional capacity) during an activity. Gamers have a longer attention span and can focus better on a task and improved results (accuracy).

Most interestingly, the study didn’t just conclude that gaming improves visual attention skills. As a second experiment, participants were divided into groups to play two different games. One group played an ‘action game’ called Medal of Honor. The other group played Tetris. Both groups achieved better results on the tests than groups which didn’t play video games as a ‘training’ tool. Most interestingly, the participants who played Medal of Honor did better than the participants who played Tetris.

The study was able to conclude that 10 days of action game training is sufficient to increase visual attention capacities. Further, action video game playing pushes the limits of different areas of visual attention. The researchers argue that the nature of games and the inherent visual multitasking provides significant visual skill training. (paywall article, sorry)


Three Papers by Jesper Juul

Three Papers by Jesper Juul – A brief synopsis of his recent works relating to computer game design.

*Note, all of the papers below are available for free from the Jesper Juul’s website (linked above).

Paper 1 – Zero-Player Games

Juul’s analysis of gaming looks closely at the players themselves and how player is defined. Importantly, the paper shows that there’s a distinction between games and gamers, and also, that games do not require a player (the player-centric model).

Zero-player games are games which require no significant human interaction for the game to be played. These are divided into four categories:

  1. Setup only games – games where the player starts the game and observes (without interaction) the remainder of the game.
  2. Games played by AIs – simply, games where the computer (AI) assumes the role of the player.
  3. Solved games – Games played by computers with the purpose of solving it – such as figuring out guaranteed winning moves, etc.
  4. Hypothetical games – non implemented games designed to describe or examine a question.

By understanding how games can be played without a player, paradoxically, the player can be more easily understood. Juul concludes with five distinct player traits:

  1. Players have continued agency
  2. Players as humans
  3. Players as temporal beings
  4. Players as having intentionality
  5. Players as having aesthetic preferences

Juul’s paper shows that a distinction can be made between game (artifact) and games (the activity). As well, it gives a strong rebuttal to the dominance of the player-centric model, since it doesn’t actually centre on players and overlooks their aesthetic preferences.

Paper 2 – Easy to use and incredibly difficult: On the mythical border between interface and gameplay

Interface and game play are seen, by many as Juul suggests, as vastly different. He argues that there’s no distinct border between the two. Interface is the tools (software and hardware) used to affect the game state. Gameplay is the core activity of the game.

The analysis focuses on defining the two elements and understanding how they have been used in game design. Importantly, Juul looks closely at the relationship between interface and gameplay, then compares their realisation in various games.

He concludes that gameplay is usually a simple premise or idea made challenging by the interface. The purpose of games is to be fun. Doing so often requires challenging the user. There’s a lot of fluidity between interface and gameplay. Because games are entertaining they are not always designed to be efficient. Intentionally adding inefficient elements to the gameplay or interface increases difficulty. This is a desired effect.

Most importantly, games provide an opportunity for the gamer to improve certain skills.

Blizzard uses the term skill differentiation to describe how requiring a range of skills allows a player to grow: a real time strategy game can have “twitch” skills, multitasking, strategic thinking, understanding of economy, knowledge of a map, and so on, as skill differentiators.

This means that difficulties of interface or gameplay simply become a skills hurdle for players to jump. The gameplay and interface in games is often blurred and, as games become more innovating, is redefined.

Paper 3 – The Fear of Failing? The many meanings of difficulty in video games

The role of failure in games is interesting and important to consider. Juul explores two important questions regarding failure.

  • What is the role of failure in games?
  • Do players prefer games where they do not feel responsible for failing?

There are two approaches to looking at “winning” in games.

  • Goal oriented – where the focus is on winning, which should be made as easy as possible
  • Aesthetic perspective – where there should be a reasonable combination of challenge and variation

Added to that are the methods of punishing players for failure.

  • Energy punishment – loss of energy, usually leading to life punishment
  • Life punishment – losing a “life”, usually bringing the player closer to game termination
  • Game termination – ending the game, forcing the player to start from the beginning
  • Setback punishment – making the player “replay” the game from a certain point

When a player fails, they might attribute the failure to three possible causes.

  • Personal – personal traits, skills or disposition (eg. I didn’t move fast enough)
  • Entity – the characteristics such as the game elements (eg. The enemy in game is too powerful)
  • Circumstance – luck, chance or other transient causes (eg. My fingers slipped off the controller)

Juul developed an empirical study, based on an earlier study by Malone in 1982, to test how players responded to different punishments (energy punishment and life punishment). The study concluded that players prefer to feel personally responsible for failure when they play a game. When players failed, then succeeded, they gave a higher rating for the game, reflecting that they felt more satisfied. This is in comparison to players who didn’t fail at all and players who failed too often (both groups gave less positive reviews of the game).

From the overall analysis, four observations were made about games and failure.

  1. The player does not want to fail (feels sad, inadequate)
  2. Failing makes the player reconsider their strategy (making the game more interesting)
  3. Winning provides gratification
  4. Winning without failing leads to dissatisfaction

This is an interesting outcome. Gamers want games to be difficult. While they hope to win, gamers will fail and feel personally responsible. Once they’ve reviewed their strategy and tried again, they will eventually win. The gamer feels gratification and is satisfied with the game.

Failure in games creates a sense of depth. Failure forces the player to re-evaluate strategies and practice their skills. Doing so reflects improvement and success (overcoming adversity).

A game should be neither too easy, nor too hard. Failure adds content!

Does Game Based Learning Work?

Does Game Based Learning Work? Short answer: Yes. Blunt’s analysis of three studies draws together enough empirical data to suggest that there is a correlation between gaming and test scores.

The idea of the study was simply to discover whether COTS (commercial, off-the shelf) games facilitate improved learning in a classroom environment. The results strongly suggest that there’s benefits to combining gaming and learning. Blunt used a theoretical framework which considered multiple concepts:

  • ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction). This model identifies four areas in which learning is broken into parts. The theory is that students require motivation as well as practical examples of how a system works (which the students can use to help their understanding).
  • Good Video Game Design. Of particular importance is the computer game’s quality. The game must have rules (restrictions and generic codes), goals & objectives, be challenging and be engaging.

Blunt conducted three separate studies at a university level. All of the subjects were business related – business, economics, management. Each subject had a corresponding COTS computer game which fit the curriculum. As a study control, the subjects that were chosen had two or more class groups. One group was allowed to play computer games as a part of the curriculum, the other class (which was learning exactly the same content) didn’t have access to a computer game – ie it was a standard class. At the end of the course, students were given standardised tests.

The results were very encouraging. The classes which included computer games had a much higher average score and more “A” level results than classes without the games. Also, classes with computer games had no students fail the course, while the other classes had a number of fails. The results also considered other matrices such as gender and ethnicity. Overall, computer games seemed to have almost no discernible affect on gender or ethnicity. The only other significant factor was age. Students under 40 years of age performed significantly better with computer games. Students over 41 didn’t benefit from using computer games in class.

Blunt concludes that his results are significant, however the problem he is trying to address is the lack of empirical data which can be used to prove a causal-comparative relationship between computer games and learning.

Simulations. We have plenty of empirical studies about simulations over the last 25 years. We know simulations work. We know simulations improve performance. We know simulations improve learning. Yet, I challenge anyone to show me a literature review of empirical studies about game- based learning. There are none. We are charging head-long into game-based learning without knowing if it works or not. We need studies. – Dr J. Cannon-Bowers

The 10,000 hour to success – myth busted!

The 10,000 hour to success – myth busted!

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” certainly hit a chord with educators and academics with his claim, based on empirical research, that 10 000 hours of study would elevate a person to virtuoso levels of skill. 

Interestingly, the study upon which his claim is based makes no such claim. 

Gladwell’s theory is too generalised to be applied to the real world and a number of good arguments have been made to refute his claims. Firstly, virtuoso level skills are dependent on the area being studied. Memorization tasks only take a few hundred hours to achieve mastery levels. And sport, which puts physical strain on the body, doesn’t allow for the level of practice that are possible in other areas (such as music).

If a person practices for 90 minutes a day, they reach the golden number of 10 000 within 20 years. However that level of practice may not be intense enough to increase skills significantly enough to be considered virtuoso. 3 hours of practice a day, attaining 10 000 hours in 10 years, is more likely to result in mastery.

Numerous other factors, such as motivation, also contribute to one’s ability to become a master of their art. Also, not everyone is suitable (physically or intellectually) for any task. My short self would never be able to become a basketball virtuoso in 10 000 hours!

However, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Gladwell’s 10 000 hours theory is really just a way to grab people’s attention. 10 000 hours sounds more precise than ‘lots and lots of practice’ … which is what Gladwell is actually saying!