Games: a Ludic Structure for Problem-Solving

Today I’ve decided to post a journal together with a longer paper about games. You hear all the time that we need to inject more play into education, that we need to return to childhood, etc. But why? You don’t as frequently hear why play is useful in education. People claim things like “If learning is fun, children will learn better.” I’m not sure of the connection. I suppose that if kids are engaged in learning, then they have a better chance of actually picking something new up than if they’re not trying to learn at all. That’s like saying if you look for something you have a better chance of finding it then if you don’t look at all. Sure, I buy that. But why play? By the same argument, we could just as easily pay kids to go to school and do their homework.

Of course some people do give reasons why play is useful. In these two papers, I’m building on some insights found in a 1933 paper by Lev Vygotsky entitled Play and its role in the Mental Development of the Child. (Vygotsky, you may well know, is one of my current heroes.) I remind the reader that in play, you can find all sorts of higher-order thinking skills taking place. Imaginary play is a very natural, distilled, abstractly difficult thing to do. Yet kids seem to do it on their own anyway, and before they even step foot in a classroom. If taught effectively, I think play is a useful vehicle for transfer of skills and tons of that ever-so-hot interdisciplinary work that goes on nowadays. (Wait until I get my genetic algorithmic music up and running.)

Journal 4 Journal 4: Methodological Doubt, Belief, and the Structure of Play

Paper 2 Reflection Paper 2: Decision-making as Game: A Mode of Prediction and Solution

Peter Elbow introduced concepts of methodological doubt and belief in his book Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. They’re central to his believing game and doubting game. Traditionally, doubt has been used as the primary tool in critical thinking. This unbalanced attention really makes a lot of analysis blind to new insights that can be gleaned from a moment of pure, suspended disbelief. (My ego won’t let me pass up an opportunity to say that both games show up automatically in my coffee mug model of classroom education.)

In my first paper I remark that all games require its participants to engage in the believing game—they have to believe that the rules imposed by the game are real and that the game itself is real. There are no consequences in any game if you don’t except them. You can always pick up the ball with your hands in soccer, unless you firmly believe that you can’t. For this reason, we might frame any situation as a game.

In the second paper, I extend my ideas to show that framing a situation as a game can greatly improve your power to predict behavior and arrive at winning strategies by simply considering the acceptable moves in your game. To illustrate my point, I work through a problem of the type sometimes given in consulting or computer science job interviews. The example shows, additionally, how mathematical reasoning (which I believe is no different than plain, old, vanilla reasoning) can be used to solve a problem without once using “math.”

As always, please comment freely. I’d love to get some feedback on this stuff.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Games: a Ludic Structure for Problem-Solving

  1. Joshua, I believe to be successful at something, we continue to play the game our entire lives. Donald “The Donald” Trump said “You will never be successful in real estate unless you enjoy playing the game.” He obviously enjoys his game as he is very successful in real estate; he owns billions of dollars worth of the stuff. When I am at work, it would be drudgery unless I make the work a game. I keep score with metrics that tell me how close to finishing the project I am, which adds motivation and a sense of accomplishment; both of which are characteristics of a game.

  2. You’ll be proud to know that I spent the last ten minutes of my employer’s time working through the solution to your “Reflection Paper 2” game.

    Since this is a consulting firm, after all, I figured they wouldn’t mind. Just sharpening my skills through game play. And since I get paid for my time regardless of whether or not I can solve the puzzle, I won the game before I even started playing!

    Next game to sharpen my skills: how many free Diet Peach Snapples can I take from the break room without someone noticing that I drink way too many Diet Peach Snapples for it to be worth the company to continue to offer Diet Peach Snapple (or keep me onboard as a hire)?

    I expect that you’ll have an answer for me shortly. Feel free to use as many Sigmas and superscripts as you wish.

  3. For some reason my RSS reader thinks this is a new post. Regardless, the timing is interesting- we were just talking about Vygotsky yesterday in my children’s literature class. What I find interesting is that play for babies & toddlers seems to be pretty widely accepted as important, so library programs like Mother Goose on the Loose are gaining a lot of support. But there seems to be some magical age where play is considered just for recess, and incorporating play into classroom education feels like cheating. I find that totally bizarre.

Comments are closed.