Video Games and Complex System Analysis
Video games do a better job of engaging students in complex system analysis then traditional education does. They provide their players with an interactive medium that allows them to feel immersed in a world. Players of these games will often spend hours at a time practicing and trying to understand and improve at a game. Video games accomplish this by providing players with interesting and engaging problems, with incentives and rewards for their time and effort. Video games can not only be used to simulate real world situations, but also push players towards understanding a complex system. In the article, “Are Video Games Good For Learning?,” by James Paul Gee states
Human understanding is not primarily a matter of storing general concepts in the head or applying abstract rules to experience. Rather, humans think and understand best when they can imagine (simulate) an experience in such a way that the simulation prepares them for actions they need and want to take in order to accomplish their goals.
Video games allow for their players to see the effect of their actions. Every decision they make, from what weapons their character will use to where they will go and what they will do, they can see themselves in the bigger picture. This cause and effect that players will see can be useful in education. Allowing students to “play” in a simulation of a real world system, like an ant colony or ancient Rome, could allow for students to want to engage more with the concept.
Though video games and scientific simulations are not the same thing, can video games, under the right circumstances, encourage and actually enact a similar ‘attitude’ or ‘stance’ to the one taken by scientists studying complex systems… We can go on to ask whether video games could create such empathy for the sorts of complex systems relevant to academic and other domains outside of entertainment (e.g., urban planning, space exploration, or global peace).
Video games offer a what is essentially a playground for players to explore and interact with. The game Overwatch has different character and hero lineups that players have picked apart to find the most optimal grouping. Overwatch allows you to pick up to five different heroes from three different classifications. Two support characters, two damage characters, and one tank character are allowed on any team at one time. The game thirty five unique characters to choose from, with each one offering a team a different benefit. These characters are studied often to find the best lineup for a certain period in time (otherwise known as a ‘Meta’ lineup). Once the meta lineup is found, that lineup of heroes is often used until the company behind the game, Blizzard, makes changes to the characters. Then the process starts again.
This process can be directly compared to the scientific process. Players in the community will use the information given to them by Blizzards changes to the game and previous meta hero lineups to make a hypothesis about what a new meta for the game might be. They will then test out their hypothesis in actual matches, changing things where they feel they need to. These meta lineups will often be used in the highest level of play, like Overwatch League. The meta lineups can also be studied to identify counterplay (like playing a lineup that targets the meta’s biggest weaknesses). A complex system like this is constantly being iterated on, pushing players to keep trying new things in order to outsmart their opponents.
Video games provide incentives and rewards to players that traditional schooling does not. The reason why players would spend so much time discovering what the meta might be for any game is in order to perform at the highest level. Performing well in a game like Destiny 2, or Call Of Duty might get you an achievement or an interesting new piece of equipment to try out. Players are motivated by in-game reward structures to perform at a high level and understand the complex systems presented to them. In the article “The need to achieve: Players’ perceptions and uses of extrinsic meta-game reward systems for video game consoles” from Science Direct, Carlos Cruz states:
Badge systems can enhance motivation for interested players, and increase enjoyment, engagement, and time spent playing the game.
Many games employ a system of badges, or achievements, both inside and outside of their games that players can engage with at their own leisure. These badges often require players to play a game in a way they wouldn’t normally, like trying to beat an action game without fighting anyone. These badges can make players think about how to interact with the game in new, often uncomfortable ways. They provide a feeling of mastery for a player and push them to want to understand the game and its systems more.
Students won’t want to interact with the systems being presented to them if they lack the motivations and incentives to. While fear of failing can be a great motivator for students to get things done, it does not push them to actually learn about the systems they are working with. Making students feel as if they are actually understanding and mastering a complex system, such as math, science, etc. can be a positive motivation for students, and make them want to continue learning rather then pushing them away.
A complex system can be defined as a system that takes time to learn and master and can be challenging for a newcomer to be introduced to. Students often struggle to engage with these complex systems due to the way that they are being presented to them and a lack of motivation or incentives. Video games can open up new possibilities to students and researchers alike, allowing all sorts of different people to engage with ideas and the fields of study that they never thought they would be engaging with. These systems could have varying levels of complexity, but immersing someone who is new to them into them with the field of video games can help them feel more involved in what is going on.
Gee, James Paul, Idunn, Are Video Games Good For Learning. 2 October 2006. https://www.idunn.no/doi/full/10.18261/ISSN1891-943X-2006-03-02
Cruz, Carlos, Science Direct, The need to achieve: Players’ perceptions and uses of extrinsic meta-game reward systems for video game consoles, June 2017. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215300960#bib38
Rubes, I generally skip over posts in Feedback Please for which there are no Replies from the author specifying what sort of feedback would be most helpful and welcome.
You’ll eventually rise to the top of the queue, but you can get faster results by letting me know what sort of help you seek.
One source, one expert, purely speculative evidence, one game, one main idea. It’s a one-note essay so far. Graded. Willing to offer feedback. Your move.
This is probably as close to done as I am going to get this. Once again if you have any time and notice anything content wise that I could fix, I would love to hear it, but by no means am I expecting feedback on this post. Next I am going to be working on reworking the rebuttal section of my research paper.
Very fine work, Rubes. Love the new material.