The ADL Next-Generation Learner Games Sub-Team consists of Dr. Shane Gallagher (team leader / contractor with Serco) along with team members Shenan Prestwich, Matt Thomas, Peter Smith, and Jennie Bottone (all contractors with Katmai).
From June 14-16, 2012, members of the ADL Next Generation Learner Team, led by Dr. Shane Gallagher, travelled to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas to conduct a study on game design. The research goal was to determine whether or not certain characteristics of video games can increase cognitive adaptability in players.
Adaptability is a critically important skill to the United States Department of Defense, and is considered a key component of 21st Century skills by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education as well. Adaptability begins with individuals’ ability to think adaptively, known as “cognitive adaptability” (which includes skills such as problem-solving, creativity, cognitive flexibility, and metacognition, or thinking about one’s strategies of thinking). If video games can be used to increase cognitive adaptability, and the game characteristics that do this most effectively can be identified, then this research can lead to improving games that serve serve as powerful training tools for military and DoD organizations.
Participants in the study, all Airmen at Sheppard ages 18-24, played video games for 6 hours each day over two days, for a total of 12 hours of gameplay. Half of the Airmen played Portal 2, a commercial off-the-shelf game predicted to increase cognitive adaptability. Portal 2 design characteristics identified by the team as ones that may encourage adaptable thinking: implicit (i.e., unstated), shifting rule sets; dynamic, shifting environments; some degree of open-endedness in the choices available to make during gameplay; and implicit reinforcement for actions and choices made within the game (i.e., players only know how effective their actions are when they reach or don’t reach the final goal). The other half of the Airmen played four Microsoft games—Solitaire, Free Cell, Minesweeper, and Mahjong—that did not have these characteristics.
Participants had their cognitive adaptability measured before and after playing games by a battery of tests developed in partnership with Cambridge Cognition at Cambridge University. Additionally, participants filled out a survey at the beginning of the study to capture their levels of metacognitive awareness, or their awareness of their metacognitive strategies, as well as several smaller metacognitive surveys throughout the study (as metacognitive awareness has been shown to indicate cognitive adaptability). At the end of the study, they filled out a final survey capturing their prior experience with and attitudes towards video games.
Results from the study will be analyzed over the next few months and the findings made public. Airmen who volunteered for the study will all receive a certificate of completion from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Additionally, as seen below, Dr. Gallagher (right) presented a certificate of appreciation from ADL to Gina Johnson (left), Deputy Director of Training Operations, and Rex Coots (middle), Training Technology Manager, of Sheppard Air Force Base.