Tuesday, July 18, 2006

chess / sims comparison

Summary: I compare chess to sims with a view to understanding what is unique to sims. Some things are unique to sims, eg. Units (AI bots), chess is ahistorical, there more ways to alter players thinking in sims. But on most criteria chess holds up well. Chess is more of an individual activity (but not exclusively) so wrt developing things such as teamwork, leadership, stewardship sims might be better. Sims are more open ended than chess and a bigger variety of things such as maps, relationships and paths can be programmed into a sim.

This was a useful transfer exercise for me (transfer is v. good for learning) but I'm bound to be missing some important stuff because my knowledge of sims is fairly tenuous.
Clark Aldrich has developed a SimWords Glossary whose purpose is to:
acknowledge that learning practitioners are developing new tools for capturing domain knowledge, as well as new language for describing how they engage the world.
Since I'm not very good at computer games but am good at chess I read through the list with a perspective of figuring out which words are unique to sims, not covered in chess. Follow the link for a fuller description of the SimWords, I have abbreviated heavily.

Actuators - turn one resource into another. In chess you have pawn promotion, normally, but not always, to a queen.

Units / Constituents - an AI bot which plays a specific role within the game. UNIQUE.

After Action Reviews - post mortem out of real time play. Chess, yeah, strong players love the post mortem. This is an example of inventing a new term when there is a perfectly good old one.

Big Skills / Soft Skills - eg. communication, conflict management, decision making, leadership, negotiation, nurturing / stewardship, researching, teamwork, turning around a bad situation (incomplete list). Schools are terrible at teaching these important skills. Some of these are covered in chess (eg. decision making, researching, turning around a bad situation) but many are not covered very well (eg. leadership, stewardship, teamwork) although they can be in the context of putting a chess team together. Chess tends to be more of an individual rather than group activity.

Communities - although there are specific unique, interesting and valuable features of on line communities (eg. avatars, public / private messages) there are lots of other ways in life to build community. On line community has unique features but the concept of community permeates many activities.

Habituation - make someone used to something (and then maybe change the pattern?). James Gee talks about this too. You might have to learn one routine skill to pass one level and then that skill needs to be modified at a higher level. In chess you have to learn this sort of thing too. eg. Fools mate will work against a weak player but it exposes your queen too early against a strong player. At a higher level strong chess players examine a range of moves that look routine but they look deeper for a subtle twist, so that if your opponent responds in a routine unthinking way they will be punished.

Hero - as a paradoxical concept, learn the rules, then break them successfully. This happens all the time with chess combinations, where mind triumphs over matter. Even more so for the positional material sacrifice, where a pawn or the exchange might be sacrificed for space or time advantage.

Higher Level Patterns / Emergence - eg. "new technology is always overhyped", "success breeds success", "tragedy of the commons", "escalation". Patterns such as these are only appreciated in context, not really understood when taught through a diagram or as linear content. Sims are more open ended than chess and a bigger variety of such patterns can be programmed in. Chess, however, has a lot of patterns which can be learnt from books and practised in context where they become very meaningful. You win and lose depending on your ability to visualise the common chess tactical patterns - forks, skewers, pins, ties, nets, double attacks, discoveries - and combinations of these.

Lines and Relationships - what sort of relationships (including graphs) connect things, eg. linear, bell curve, the price / demand relationship. Once again, Sims are more open ended than chess and a bigger variety of such relationships can be programmed in.

Map - eg. maze (find something), territory (control), ecosystem (interdependencies), etc. There are more maps in chess than non experts might realise - the struggle for territory is an obvious one but less obvious is the way the map changes in the endgame, each type of endgame can have its own unique characteristics. But once again, Sims are more open ended than chess and a bigger variety of such maps can be programmed in. I'll just say ditto from now on.

Paths (player created) - eg. bidirectional, one way, between different groups, reorganisation of paths. I think most of this is contained within chess. Some pieces only go one way (pawns), others can jump over (knights). In a game between strong players there is a lot of manoeuvering / reoganisation going on as each player strives to co-ordinate their pieces and thwart the co-ordination of their opponents pieces.

Playing out information - eg. in halflife2 creatures with long tongues hang from the ceiling and try to eat you. Computer games are more subtle than movies in informing the player of the danger. Well, in chess the whole idea is to threaten your opponent in such a way that he is not aware that you are threatening him.

Primary variables / balanced scorecard - there is conflict / optimisation between different criteria for success. For example, for a walk in the woods, the primary variables might be fun, safety, low cost, and exercise. If the main learning thing here is the conflict / optimisation process between competing resources then that is a big part of competition chess - time management with the clock, which opening to play depending on what I know of my opponent, co-ordinating / optimising the mobility of different pieces are some examples.

Probe - we don't know what we don't know, what am I missing? This is a core ability in chess. If you miss something important you are likely to lose.

Real time - yes, competition chess is played in real time. Research, including looking at master games, and post mortem is also a significant time element amongst strong players.

Rubber banding - the rules are bent to keep things exciting and close, eg. in a car race. There are equivalents in chess - handicap games, the lower rated player starts with a material or time advantage.

Rush / Tank Rush - RTS, build a large mobile army and attack early. Definitely part of chess. Play the Kings Gambit, sac a piece, go for the jugular early. Rush, describes it well, although not a chess term.

Scramble - to recover, with resolve from a bad situation. In chess, one of the defining characteristics of a strong player is how hard it is to defeat them if you are lucky enough to obtain an early advantage.

Scoring - scores are mainly motivational, not instructional, not scientific. Too much reliance on scoring subverts learning. In chess, scores count for a lot and mean something.

Situational awareness - sims can force people to see the world differently. Becoming good at chess does make you see the world differently, eg. teaches you to plan ahead and anticipate possibilities. However, sims may be UNIQUE in that the designer can program different ways in which the player will see the world differently.

Tech Tree - eg. the alphabet comes before literacy. Possibly UNIQUE. Chess does not incorporate human history.

Throttle - how hard to you push for ? This is part of chess. If you go all out for a wild king side attack then you leave yourself open for a counterattack if not successful.

Tracking quests - that layer on top that makes things easier to understand. It includes charts and advice, as well as pre-reading and after action reviews. The chess equivalents are chess books, magazines, the post mortem and the coach.

Triggers - all or nothing events, the opposite of primary variables. Yes, in chess, we have the mate in one, or two, or three ...

No comments: