Good News: Video Games Without Violence or Sex!
The games are the brainchild of computer scientist Jordan Pollack and his lab at Brandeis University, the Dynamical and Evolutionary Machine Organization (DEMO), which researches the principles of self-organization in complex systems. After many years of studying simulated evolution, Pollack and colleagues in the DEMO lab realized that these systems tend to reach equilibrium, or a fixed point, through monopoly or collusion between competitors, at which point learning stops. As part of this research, they developed theories and strategies to prevent collusion and enable continuous learning. "Most games are competitive, a zero-sum equation in which the same players always win and lose, with negative side-effects for education," explains Pollack. "But the BEE games create an entirely new incentive structure which rewards players both for success at problem-solving as well as for creating just-difficult-enough challenges for their partners, which requires ongoing assessment." In MoneyBEE, two players create traditional coin problems for each other, such as figuring out which four coins add up to 30 cents. Solving money problems uses pre-algebra skills involving number sense, arithmetic, problem solving and mental visualization. PatternBEE is a game in which the players challenge each other with geometric puzzles using a rare version of Tangrams. PatternBEE builds skills in geometry, problem-solving, pattern recognition, spatial reasoning, and creativity. In a single game, the winner is the one who solves more problems correctly, while providing his opponent with problems that are neither too easy nor too hard. "Everyone becomes a winner when they have another person who motivates them to focus on solving problems just within or beyond their reach." says Pollack, who was named one of MIT Technology Review's TR 10 in 2001. At a time of rising concern about children's safety and privacy on the Internet and the corrosive effect of sex and violence in video games, these websites provide a welcome haven. To ensure privacy, the Web sites do not collect name or e-mail addresses; players simply choose a nickname for themselves. There is no "chat" or e-mail contact through the sites; players communicate only by the strategic choices they make in the game.