“Abstraction Through Game Play” by Antri Avraamidou, John Monaghan, and Aisha Walker examines the results of a real-world experiment in game play involving an 11-year-old boy from Cypress and the popular game, Sims 2. I sought out this type of example in light of the current affinity project our class is undertaking where do a deep dive into an active affinity space. Plus, with all of the literature we have been consuming around games and learning, I hoped to find some kind of real life case study or example to illustrate these concepts. Young 11-year-old Costas did just that!
As a brief overview, the experiment was designed to create a non-classroom, natural learning environment for the boy with as few restraints as possible. To implement the design, the video was accessed online in the boy’s bedroom and mediator was on-hand to guide the sessions. Costas qualified for the study in that he 1) had prior video game play experience, 2) had the ability to read and understand English, and 3) was perceived to be willing to express himself throughout the study. Costas played the game for a total of three hours over four different periods and was ultimately tasked with building two houses in the sandbox-style game. This was as close as the researchers could get to simply observing a child at play.
The data and analysis of the study provided ample evidence to support the authors’ focus: abstraction can be accomplished through game play. In this case, Costas primarily constructed a mathematical abstraction in order to build his houses, especially the second house which required construction under greater restraints (budget, space, resources, etc.). From the outset, Costas was adamant about maintaining symmetry in house while still trying to implement his desired features (like a swimming pool in the middle of the house). To do so, Costas continually ran into “problems” which he needed to use math to solve. As the authors point out, in this case, the artefact mediated the mathematical learning that was accomplished through game play.
The evidence provided by the case study is very compelling and the authors adequately proved their hypothesis. In the end of the article the authors note that the mathematical abstraction constructed by Costas was not scholastic or “privileged” mathematics as what is taught in a curriculum. Costas’ use of math was based on objects and shapes – as you can see the grid system laid out in the illustration. There weren’t any numbers present. This brings to the forefront some questions. In grade school we learn mathematical concepts in the classroom and then try to exercise those concepts through simulations (word problems). In this case study, I believe the reverse was enacted. Costas was initially tasked with a blind simulation (I say blind because he was not specifically told to learn something) and then subconsciously used math to accomplish it. Instead of a teacher as a mediator, the game/artefact was the mediator. One could say that comparing the knowledge in each area is practical versus conceptual. The question I have is would one benefit from the other? Which is a better format? If Costas were given numerical constraints such as building a specific sized house with particular dimensions and features, would he be able to learn the same scholastic mathematics that are taught in the classroom?
Articles like these, in my mind, prove that games facilitate or mediate learning. I think the next question might be to ask – what can we learn through games?