“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?

The study seems like a good example how we can teach practical subjects in a video game. It sheds light on the underlying design that games provide for learning.

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