Connected Educator

All the talk of ‘Connected Educators’ reminds me (and probably all those who aren’t ‘connected’) of this clip from Donnie Brasco…

Game Theory is not the Theory of Games

(see previous Games? In Learning? I’m Confused…)

Game Theory is a branch of applied Mathematics which looks at competitive situations where two or more people have conflicting interests – it is not the theory of using games in learning.

Game Theory has been applied in many situations and contexts through history, most notably the Cold War, Global Politics, Economics and of course games like Poker, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Nim and Liars Dice (see this post – Red Dead Redemption)

The Prisoners Dilemma is synonymous when introducing Game Theory. Summarized briefly:

Two criminals, Prisoner A & Prisoner B are put in different rooms and given a similar deal. If one implicates the other, he may go free whilst the other receives a 10 year sentance. If neither of the crimanals talk, both are given 1 year sentances, and if both implicate each other, they each receive a 5 year sentence. 

Each criminal has an optimum strategy of implicating the other, and thus in equilibrium each receives a harsh punishment, but both would be better off if each remained silent. (This is assuming that both Prisoner A & B are rational) 

There are various iterations of the Prisoners Dilemma and it has been seen in popular media in various guises over the years:

(See Golden Balls & Game Theory for a nice explanation here)

John Nash, a famous mathematician and Nobel Laureate, whose work in game theory provided insight into the forces that govern chance and events inside the complex system of daily life, was made famous by popular media in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. This excerpt from the movie looks at Nash as he begins to formulate his idea of the Nash Equilibrium – for which he would later win a Nobel prize for his contributions in Game Theory.

A Nash Equilibrium is a state in the game where no player has an incentive to deviate. Each player’s equilibrium strategy is known by the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy. When all the players in this case go for the blonde, every player can increase his payoff by deviating. 

One of my favourte instances of Game Theory is the Truel. Breifly:

Mr. Black, Mr. Gray, and Mr. White are fighting in a truel. They each get a gun and take turns shooting at each other until only one person is left. Mr. Black, who hits his shot 1/3 of the time, gets to shoot first. Mr. Gray, who hits his shot 2/3 of the time, gets to shoot next, assuming he is still alive. Mr. White, who hits his shot all the time, shoots next, assuming he is also alive. The cycle repeats. If you are Mr. Black, where should you shoot first for the highest chance of survival?

(Hint: Think from the points of view of Mr. Gray and Mr. White, not just Mr. Black.)

See a Truel in action in the Clint Eastwood Western The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

So Game Theory is a branch of Mathematics that uses vocabulary like Nash Equilibrium, complete/incomplete information, zero sum, variable sum, optimal strategy, deviation, expected value etc. – it’s not the Theory of using Games in learning.

Next Post: Game-Based Learning

Student Game Art #2

(Original post – Student Game Art)

‘Jeremy’ continues his concept art for a graphic adventure game…


Games? In Learning? I’m Confused…

Confused Sonic by ~EdoBean

It’s evident from recent weeks that many are confused when talking about games in the same breath as education. This is understandable. The question, “What is a game?” still elicits varied responses depending on who you talk to.

Most fields of study have been around for thousands of years, have fairly clear definitions and boundaries and have a vast body of knowledge to draw from. Whilst games in various forms have been around as early as 2600BC (see Exploring Games Through Culture) and are a universal part of human experience, definitions from Callios, Huizinga, Salen, Zimmerman, Pearce, Wittgenstein etc. have no real agreed definition of what a ‘game’ actually is.

Whilst there is no concise definition that is universally agreed upon, we can draw from the literature and by examining many of these definitions and synthesising this work into something that is coherent, we can establish a baseline for our discussion around games. Briefly, the common elements are:

  • Games are an activity that generally have an uncertain outcome.
  • Games have rules and to a degree, conflict.
  • Games have a clearly defined set of goals.
  • Games are artificial, safe, make believe, and they are outside ordinary life. This is sometimes referred to as the players stepping into the “Magic Circle” (see Games, Play & Porous Membranes)
  • Games are voluntary
  • Games are systems
  • Games are a medium unto themselves and a form of art

If we now add relatively new fields like game design and gamification into the mix, you can start to understand where the confusion comes from.

Meeting with Donald Brinkman from Microsoft Research in Melbourne recently and having several meetings the DEECD folk (who have not long completed their serious games and virtual worlds trial), it is important that there is a shared understanding of not only the literature, but also of a critical vocabulary – a set of words or common language that enable us to have meaningful discussions around the use of games, and at the higher level, allow DEECD folk to make informed choices and decisions in regard to policy development.

This common understanding is important otherwise we risk propagating misconceptions and misunderstanding which has implications for a learning method that is just starting to gain real traction in education circles. Understanding the differences between Game Theory, Game-Based Learning, Game Development & Gamification is paramount to elevating the dialogue.

Misconceptions that I have come across recently include:

  • Game Theory is the theory of using games in learning.
  • Gamification is the use of games in learning. 
  • Gamification could be seen as dumbing down the curriculum. 
  • Game Design & Development is digital only. 
  • That the study of games needs to be integrated into a subject.

This is part 1 of a series of posts that will look into the differences and similarities between Game Theory, Gamification, Game-Based Learning and Game Development.

Zombies, Run!

“Gamification is the application of game elements in non-game contexts.” – Sebastion Detarding, MindTrek, 2011

Entering the second week of the University of Pennsylvania MOOC on Gamification via Coursera, I have to say it is better than what I was expecting in both content and delivery. Over 66,000 people from 174 countries are taking this 6 week course, and after enrolling with a large amount of skepticism about ‘gamification’, am quite enjoying the discussion taking place in the forums. Much use of the term ‘gamification’ is often grossly oversimplified or sometimes just plain wrong, but the discussions taking place in this course seem to be elevating the dialogue around this topic.

Zombies, Run! was mentioned in Week 1. Whilst hearing about Zombies, Run! when it was initially a Kickstarter project, I thought it time to see what it was all about. Zombies, Run! is described as,

“an ultra-immersive running game for the iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and Windows Phone. We deliver the story straight to your headphones through orders and voice recordings – and back home, you can build and grow your base with the items you’ve collected.”

It’s not too bad. Whilst you are running the story unfolds between songs in your playlist, you engage in interval training whilst trying to escape zombie hordes and you pick up objects (seemingly at random) that can be used back at base to unlock further missions. The results are collated for you where you get access to statistics on distance travelled, time, average speed, calories burned etc. As you can see below, I have just started an exercise campaign after 6 months of 100% inactivity…

Screen Shot 2012-09-02 at 6.50.14 PM

I’m going to continue using Zombies, Run! until I finish the storyline. What is interesting is that games or ‘game-like’ activities continue to invade real life – a real-life Zombies, Run! has already been implemented with events springing up everywhere.

It Just Doesn’t Add Up

It’s funny how as we go about our lives, we can sometimes wander around blissfully ignorant of the amount of bad mathematics that is used in society.

Snap 2012-07-26 at 16.01.13Snap 2012-07-26 at 15.48.29

Images like this are great lesson starters. Pose the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and let the discussion begin. (Visit the Bad Maths Flickr Group for more examples. Another slightly different example is Dan Meyer’s 101questions.)

Regularly you will hear things like, ”Up to 25% or more” or see misconceptions accepted by those who don’t know any better ie. imagine a fictitous company that draws 5% sales from Australia in 2010 and 10% sales from Australia in 2011. This does not equate to a 5% increase in sales (like many believe) – it equates to a 100% increase in sales, as the amount of sales in total has doubled from the previous year.

The one that always gets me is the statistical insignificance of the data that most schools use to make decisions. Student Opinion Survey’s, Parent & Staff Opinion Surveys, Annual Implementation Plans where schools look for a 4.765% gain in student attendance from one year to the next. OnDemand testing, NAPLAN, class tests, SAC’s, work requirements, exams, practice exams, performance reviews… This all amounts to naught if you don’t have the right culture in place. Put the bad use of data aside and to drive change follow these 5 simple strategies:

1) Establish a culture of passion

2) Get your ‘curriculum’ right (And no, a teacher-led textbook approach is not right…) 

3) Provide rationale for change and always include teacher/student input

4) Understand what improvement actually looks like (Hint: it’s not a number…)

5) Provide time, support & assistance

Its been written about countless times before, but it’s that simple. Using data (correctly or incorrectly) doesn’t equate to improvements – what the data can show is that you have improved.