Zombies, RUN!


Hearing this NPR story piqued my interest in how game mechanics are being added to everything from advertising to education.  Zombies, RUN! is a new app that attempts to “gamify” the jogging experience.  It does this through adding objectives and a narrated story (turning a pleasant jog in The Arb into a terrifying run through a zombie-filled wasteland).

Although we haven’t had the lectures on it yet, I believe this is a good example of “gamification” or the very least “pointification.”  I haven’t formed my own opinion yet on whether or not gamification is good or bad, but at the very least I’m sure an app like this will motivate more people to get out and run.

Liar Game, Survivor, and Game Theory

I’m currently reading through a manga (japanese comic) entitled “Liar Game,” available online.  In the game, many people from around the world compete against each other to potentially win huge amounts of cash.  They compete by playing various games, with the idea being to gradually eliminate players until only a few are left, who will claim the a grand prize.

This concept has been done many times in many forms of media, with one of the more recent reincarnations being the popular TV show “Survivor”.  I followed the same trend as my peers in that I watched the entire first season and then slowly lost interest through the second as the show careened into an endless rehash of the same thing season by season.

What I find interesting about Liar Game (as well as Survivor and similar TV shows) is the various mindsets people go into when playing games like this as well as the game theory used to win such games.  A fascinating analysis of the first season of Survivor and the strategy that Richard Hatch used can be found right here.

Which brings me to the point of this post: does game theory have a role in education?  It can be argued that the purpose of school is to prepare children/young adults for the “real world.”  It can also be argued that “the real world” is simply a game, with the game space being “reality,” and the win conditions being different and chosen by every player.  Would it make sense to teach game theory to teach children about conflict?  In particular, I believe it would be fascinating if social studies was taught from a “rational actor” perspective, with attempts to find the reasoning behind major political events (rather than the current “know about these events X that happened in year Y” model).

To argue the other side, there are clear differences between game theory and its application in real life.  Real life requires things such as fairness, compassion, justice, and mercy.  It requires people to recognize that the game is unfair to many people and that everybody deserves a chance to play.  Contrast this to game theory, which is solely involved in figuring out how to win.

I’ll end this post with a brain teaser: There are 22 contestants in a room.  Every round, they will have to answer a yes/no question (the truthfulness of the answer does not matter).  After every round, the majority group is eliminated.  For example, if in the first round 13 people answer “no” and 9 answer “yes”, only the 9 will continue onto the next round.  These rounds continue until there is either 1 or 2 winners.

There exists a method to guarantee a win in this game – can you figure it out?  If not, the solution can be found in chapter 10 of Liar Game, although you will probably need to read the first 9 for it to make sense.

To The Future!

Classmates, we live in an exciting day and age.  The digital age has done nothing but gain momentum as we spring towards an unknown future.  I can sum up how quickly technology has improved with 2 images.  The first is the videogame FIFA International Soccer, released in 1994:

FIFA International Soccer, released in 1994

And the second is from the recently released FIFA 2012:

FIFA 2012, released in 2012

These 2 images are only 18 years apart! It is not unrealistic to predict that within a few centuries, we will have to ability to perfectly emulate reality and create simulations so realistic that the human mind will be unable to  comprehend the differences between simulation and reality.

An optimistic futurist might predict that within a few centuries, we will obtain the ability to upload and simulate an entire human consciousness.  Will humanity then merge consciousness and become a single, collective cyber-mind?  Or will we instead live in a Matrix-style manner and be able to live out an infinite number of digital, simulated lives?

A paranoid conspiracy theorist might predict that this has already happened, and that if you pay careful attention you can sometimes see a g̉ͣ҉̞l̞̜̗͉̹̠̓̇͑̃̽̋i̧̘̗̞͎̯͕͕̟̮ͩͤ͋͊ͧ̽̔̍́t͎̭͚͇̺̓̋̚͘č͇͍͋̈̋̉ḩ̨̢̗͔͖̆̋ͧ̃̽ in your personal simulation…

Graphics vs Aesthetics & Playing to Win

A brief link drop:

I heard Prof. Fishman talking about the graphics and design in the pirate ship game (the one where the flag actually flew in the direction of the wind).  Unfortunately, I believe this careful attention to detail was misattributed as “great graphics” when it was in fact “careful aesthetics.”  This video is a great explanation about the differences (and why careful attention to design and detail is more important than higher polygon counts).


Also, if you ever find yourself bored and/or wanting to find out how to gain a master’s competitive mindset, I highly recommend David Sirlin’s Playing to Win, which is available in it’s entirety online at http://www.sirlin.net/ptw.  I particularly enjoyed the play styles sections and it’s comparisons to famous chess players.

Eliminating Assumptions

I’d like to share a link to an 80-minute long video titled Eliminating Assumptions, from one of my favorite E-Casters: Sean “Day[9]” Plott (think John Madden, but for nerds).

http://blip.tv/day9tv/day-9-daily-400-p1-special-episode-eliminating-assumptions-5888689 (split into 4 parts)

A modicum of knowledge about Starcraft 2 can be useful when watching this, but is definitely not required.  I’m going to focus on a few key points from the lecture (and throw timestamps of the relevant section in parenthesis) and how I believe they can relate to EDUC 222 and learning in general.

1. Knowing Secrets -> Skill Process -> Understanding (Part 2, 0:00-9:30)

The “standard method of teaching” in higher education is for a teacher to say (and this is paraphrased from the video), “I am going to have an exam on the Cherokee Indians,” and students will then answer a series of questions about the Cherokee Indians based on material presented throughout previous lectures.  However, Day[9] makes the argument that it is not the memorization of facts that leads to skill, but rather the process of learning, understanding, and building on a knowledge base that leads to true understanding.  This idea was reinforced for me when Prof. Fishman stated that rote memorization, while effective for standardized tests would actually turn students off from learning.  This has massive implications for how things are taught.

The best example I can think of is teaching students multiplication: I have (not very) fond memories of filling out hundreds of pages of worksheets full of multiplication problems in a Kumon class; to this day millions of young students are forced to learn their times tables, from 1×1 to 10×10.  This method can be contrasted to the “take existing knowledge of addition, build upon it (2 + 2 + 2 = 6 = 2 * 3), and expand understanding of mathematics, which I believe is far more engaging and I would argue is more effective than rote memorization.

2. Broad Variety of Knowledge -> Skill Depth > Breadth (Part 2, 9:30-19:30)

Through some pretty insightful analysis of a single game of Marvel vs Capcom 2, Day[9] shows how being extremely well practiced in a few specialized skills trumps being generally good at many.  In his words, “A Player who is excellent at one strategy, is an excellent player.  A player who is decent at 100 strategies, is [only] a decent player.”  While this statement may not hold true if you want to become a world champion at Jeopardy, I believe it has strong life implications and is a key in shaping the course of your learning.

I was taught by a mentor that a key to success in life is to pick a few things and become very good at them.  Obtaining mastery over a few skills will lead to you becoming unique and a respected expert.  For example, if your passion is to learn everything there is to know about Cryptography, and you also choose to practice and master the art of public speaking and presentation, then you are now the world’s foremost speaker on Cryptography.  I believe this has already been applied to higher education in that people specialize into specific fields, and within those fields can specialize further.

3. If it aint broke, don’t fix it You can probably improve what currently works (Part 3, 0:00-9:25)

The problem with many things in schooling and education is that they are not considered problems.  The mindset of “this system works, so why change it” will instantly shut your mind off from innovating and thinking of potential improvements.  One example of a “working system” is grading in college classes.  It is an accepted norm that during your standard college course, you will have “x assignments worth y points”, and your grade will be determined by points earned / all points possible.  I am intrigued by how Prof. Fishman is attempting to improve this system by removing the “all points possible” aspect.