I have a deep and detailed memory of games I played, even years ago. My son, who has played many more than me, can recall, with incredible rapidity and detail, entire environments in dozens of games. The intensity of the experience, along with repeated, spaced practice results in deep processing and good recall. It made me think that any of these games could be used, as recall aids for other subjects. So I’m exploring a new way of using computer games to increase learning with my 15 year old son. I’ve taken one of his GCSE subjects (Psychology) and got him to link each module to a specific area of the game.
For example, the Psychology module on ‘Aggression’ starts with the distinction between ‘Hostile’ and ‘Instrumental’ aggression, followed by Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory research. I’ve got my son to link the first distinction with the opening sequence of the game where both forms of aggression are shown on the screen, actual anger and violence as well as indirect aggression through gameplay. Then, he teams up with another player who he names Bandura (memory link – he wears a bandana). The first area of the game he relates to the experiment where children watch adults perform acts of violence on dummies and are then observed playing with toys. Each new area of the game is used as a place, with relevant characters and cues to link the learning points with the game itself. To recall any one thing he only has to recall the highly visual HD graphic area of the game and that environment and characters act as cues for recall.
The technique, using a remembered building as a memory location, is an old one. It works because you are using already learnt cues to link to the new learning. These games have the advantage of being highly visual, high definition environments full of potential cues. The player/learner is also a dynamic, interactive force in the game, moving through a sophisticated topographic environment, making decisions in a state of high attention.
I think it makes sense because the encoding, storage and recall cues are all strong. By encoding these memories within a well known environment in an organised fashion with vivid cues and deep processing, recall is facilitated by recalling known, vivid cues. It seems to use episodic memory as a way of meaningfully recalling semantic information. It also, I think, uses topographic memory, which can be used in the same way i.e. the journey through different environments in the game, acts as a topographic landscape, on which memory cues are placed.
It has the additional advantage, in that he can be asked to recall this stuff before being allowed to play the game! If this works, and early results are impressive, we’ll use other games he plays for the other modules:
Social Influence – Runescape
Environment and behaviour – Spore
Perception – Call of Duty
Sex & gender – GTA
Phobias – Bioshock
Time will tell!