Saturday, 13 January 2007

Games/Puzzles vs the "Real World"?

So a post over on 'The Frontal Context' on Puzzles, Mysteries and the nature of Science explores the link between information, discovery and the unknown. But (for me) it also sparks another question: what links are there between puzzles/games, and the 'wider world'? How applicable are gaming aand puzzling skills to real, every day life?

There's a lot of discussion, for instance, over the effectiveness of 'Brain Training" style games, especially for the young, the old and, um, Carol Vorderman. But the more sceptical of us are wary of such a "straightforward" link between simple mental "exercises", and how quickly/deeply one's brain may be able to think. (I must admit here that while I'm sure there may be plenty of research into the area, I haven't had the time (or, indeed, inclination) to look any of it up.)

Experience suggests to me that puzzles offer a drastically diverse range of mental "exercise". Many Japanese logic puzzles, for example, are attractive because this logic offers us an extremely linear solution. "If A, then B. If B, then C." - There is little need to choose anything subjectively, or for guesswork. At any stage, you should know if you are right or wrong. This is one, very specific kind of exercise.

Other types of puzzle - random sums, and timed puzzles, for example - naturally lead to slightly different skills. But the issue of everyday applicability is still questionable.

By contrast, I offer an anecdote. Go is considered by many to be the greatest game around - greater than Chess, due to its simplicity, and the complexity that arises from this. Still, the same principle applies to Chess, nonetheless. After heading home from my 4th or 5th session of getting into Go, something clicked in my head and I realised that of the various traits needed to get off the ground, the ability to sacrifice was a hugely important one. The complexity of Go led to very important, but equally very basic strategy such as this, and the basicness of it, I find, makes it also very "transferable" into real life situations - sacrifice and compromise need to be considered at all times, whatever the aim.

This is, perhaps, an extreme, but it hopefully highlights the very real role that games and puzzles can have within a much wider existence. If life is one big puzzle/mystery, then what ideas and revelations can we take forth from "trivial" pursuits? What types of game and riddle do you find to have a much bigger impact on your train of thought than you ever expected? Do you notice the difference that games like Brain Training make in other activities at all? Do you even find that experience in life changes how you play games or solve puzzles?


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