Developing working memory training games for learning

The working memory (WM) term has evolved from the short-term memory (STM) concept and sometimes these are used interchangeably. However, Baddeley has pointed out that STM refers to the simple temporary storage of information whereas WM implies a combination of storage and manipulation. In general, working memory is of central importance for acquiring knowledge and involved in a variety of complex cognitive tasks and abilities. The research has shown that working memory training can lead to positive effects on fluid intelligence, reasoning, problem solving and cognitive control etc. In fact, it has been demonstrated that working memory is even a better predictor for scholastic achievement than intelligence. Thus, working memory is also a good predictor for school-relevant tasks such as mathematical skills and reading comprehension. In particular, working memory training may be highly relevant in improving educational outcomes in those who are struggling. Nevertheless, the results of working memory studies varies and more research on this theme is needed.

Given that working memory training can possibly lead to a wide range of significant improvements, it is not surprising that research as well as industry is interested in improving working memory training methods. Motivation is a crucial factor in working memory training and conventional working memory programs may quickly become boring or monotone, what in turn can lead to decreased training performance. However, game elements can be added to usually monotone brain training programs to engage users and improve the outcome of the training.

I am involved in a company, Flow Factory Ltd., which is currently developing working memory training games. I will shortly present one game concept that we are working on in order to demonstrate how a common dual n-back training protocol can be implemented as a serious game. The dual n-back task is a method to assess and to train working memory and requires a continuous monitoring of two independently presented stimuli sequences. The task of the user is to select a signal that describes how the current stimuli match the stimuli occurred “n” positions back in the sequence.

In the Brains vs Zombies tablet game zombies rise from graves one at a time and growl a word. In level one the player has to defend himself by remembering if the previous zombie rised from the same grave and if it growled the same word as the current zombie. Player answers by pressing one of four buttons: ‘same location’, ‘same word’, ‘both are same’ or ‘both are different’. Player earns points from correct answer and suffers damage on wrong answer. The answer has to be given before the zombie manages to attack the player or otherwise it is interpreted as a wrong answer. Players’ health in the game is visually represented as a brain. Zombies bite pieces of players’ brain on wrong answer and the game ends when the brain is entirely eaten by zombies. The basic goal of Brains vs Zombies game is to keep the brain intact and keep on playing as long as possible to gain maximum amount of points. In this prototype version a player can adjust game difficulty by selecting the number of positions where zombies can appear at and number of steps back in the sequence the zombie has to be compared to (n). In the final version for example levels, achievements and analytical tools will be added.

 

You have now a possibility to participate to the user experience study and test the game. Browse to following url with your iPad 2, iPad mini or new iPad and add the game to your home screen. http://www.flowfactory.fi/zombiesdual. Play the game 15-20 minutes and then answer to the Playing experience questionnaire.

Furthermore, in the first GALA Summer School you will have a possibility test the multiplayer and exergame versions of the Brains vs Zombies game. The GALA Summer School will be organized at the University of Graz, Austria (2.9.-6.9.2013). Check out the Summer School website for more information about the event: http://academy.seriousgamessociety.org/summerschool

Remember to take care of your brains,

Kristian Kiili, Tampere University of Technology

Featuring Manuel Ninaus, University of Graz

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