Games That Teach

Games can teach. I think most of us know that. But did you know that games can also teach computers? Yep. Try this game. It was created by my friends Andrew and Melissa at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies.

The game's goal is to see what actions people can recognize and use the actions of people to inform machine learning.   In Andrew's words:

"The ultimate goal is to build a system that allows people to create their own movies (involving shapes), and have the computer automatically author a textual narrative that describes their movie in anthropomorphic terms."


Pretty cool.


New research out of Oxford University suggests that the game of Tetris can help prevent PTSD related flashbacks. PTSD, short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be alleviated by playing the game shortly after a traumatic event. It's thought by playing the game the brain's cognitive resources are used up and thus prevented from forming and retaining bad memories of the event.

The research was based on pretty mild "trauma" and it isn't a solution for those already struggling with PTSD.

I'm skeptical about tricking the brain in this way. Seems to me the solution is much simpler - a safe place for those struggling with PTSD to talk about their stories and through talking/exposure re-wire their thoughts about the experience.

On Coaching

"...he already knew he could coach. All you had to do was look at at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding. That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn't do this alone; they need a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you. A bad coach made everyone suffer in the same way, and so was more like a torturer." The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


Alexander Cockburn in his book Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death published in 1974. With respect to chess and the fact that men outnumber women in its top ranks, Cockburn said that women,

"are happily without the psychological formations or drives that promote an expertise in the game in the first place. One could even add that women have never been allowed the cultural space to foster that lethargic yet zealous commitment to a useless pursuit that has fostered the bizarre careers of the great champions."

I have to wonder if this is what is going on with respect to certain parts of the programming culture - namely, hack-a-thons. Until it's necessary for survival, isn't it smarter to not worry about it? Women don't have time for hack-a-thons. They have lives. Meaning they have so much else to worry about - spouses, children, their homes but even adhering to cultural constructs like what they wear, hair and make-up. When you have to make time for all these things, it definitely reduces your leisure time or time to commit to singular pursuits.

Achievement often requires a unilateral focus that by just being women who must conform to a cultural standard immediately puts us at a disadvantage. Our pursuits are merely narrow aspects of a fuller life while men can be far more linear - their pursuits can be their whole lives.



"Games, he thought. People need distractions during hard times." Stefan Fatsis, Word Freak

A phenomenon often starts with a whimper more than a big bang.

Alfred Butts an architect started working on Scrabble in 1931 and had his first version by 1934 (called Lexico). He tried to interest Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Simon & Schuster. They all rejected the game. When he couldn't find a manufacturer he continued to tinker with the game and created his next version Criss-Cross Words. By 1947 he had nearly given up on his game when he heard from James Brunot, a guy looking for a small business to run. It was Brunot that named the new game Scrabble.

After James Brunot acquired the early version of Scrabble from the inventor Butts in 1949, he sold only 2,413 sets of Scrabble. In the next year, 1950, he sold only 1,632 sets. The year after that he sold 4,853 sets and Brunot was still not making money. It took almost four years for the game to take off. In 1953, close to 800,000 sets were sold. Sales today are in the millions.