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Game/Mental State pt.2

This article examines 2 mental phenomena that occur often when playing video games. The results are evident in the gameplay.

The computer email metaphor that I ended part 1 of this series with may seem strange, but the feeling of drawing a blank when memorizing information should be all too familiar. When studying for a test, if you try to recall some recently covered piece of information before you've solidly memorized it (LTM) you may draw a complete blank. The sentence, fact, image, or idea that was so fresh in your mind can all of a sudden be missing as if you misplaced it. Then after a short period of time, perhaps with the right trigger, you recall all the data swiftly. This phenomenon may feel similar to the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon, but it's not the same. Rather, what I'm calling the misplaced memory phenomenon is a more predictable occurrence when trying to access information while learning it. 


 This image captures the feeling of learning the worst way possible. 


How about a gaming example. If you've ever seriously played a game like Geometry Wars, Pac-Man,Super Crate Box, or any other arcade style high score game, you've probably experienced the effects of this misplaced memory phenomenon. The best part is, you can experience it again to prove it to yourself. By either taking notes, or having a 3rd party observe your playing, keep track of how successful your many attempts are based on score. Play 20 games back to back or play until you get a high score based on your record. Do your best attempts generally come after a period of your worst attempts? If so, this is not because after doing poorly you dig in your heels, sober up, and redouble your efforts. This is because to perform better than ever you need to develop a better strategy/game plan, which requires more knowledge.

To get more than 7+2 bits of game knowledge, you must develop your LTM. As you attempt to top your highest score (assuming that luck isn't a significant factor) you must develop strategies and tactics that are just a step more effective than your current ones. So when you start playing, you'll start off at a level that you're comfortable with. From there, you'll notice mistakes, think of new ideas, or learn something new about the game. Once you analyze these ideas you'll have to most likely convert the keepers to LTM before you can upgrade your methods. You may not be aware of it, but you should experience a noticeable dip in performance while your mind automatically kicks into code/decode mode. I theorize that this drop in performance is mainly because you attempt to use the data that is now mysteriously gone. In other words, you try to play at the next level before you're ready. Furthermore, if you try to use some of your old strategies that are being upgraded with the newly coded information, the synaptic recall may be slowed somewhat, thus throwing off your game. But when the code/decode process is done, BINGO. You have your high score. Naturally, this phenomenon applies to all video games or activities that stress knowledge skills. 

If you commonly experience the skyrocketing score phenomenon (suckcess. see more evidence here), you probably also have a difficult time maintaining a consistently high level of success. My reasoning is, if you're the kind of gamer who immediately wants to push for an even higher score just after breaking your own records, you're likely to kick start the whole learning process (STM-code-LTM) all over again. Once you restart the process, expect some dips in performance. 

Perhaps you've experienced a similar phenomenon called "beginner's luck" or "first run's best one" (ok, I made that second phrase up). Think about these experiences in terms of how I've explained the facets of knowledge skills. You only get one first attempt at a level. When you do, your LTM is stressed while your STM fills. You may play with a certain level of finess or ease because that's what LTM allows. But as soon as you die, retry, and/or over think the level, you begin to make all kinds of mistakes on your 2nd attempt and beyond. This is because after your first attempt, you go back into the level with expectations or some kind of strategy (a specific plan of action). The key word here is specific. When you anticipate specific challenges and think of the specific moves you should do to overcome them, you're relying on LTM. So when you go back into a level for the 2nd time thinking "I'll just do what I did and not mess up in the same place" you're essentially telling your brain... "I've analyze the first attempt and have approved it for LTM conversation. Begin the code/decode process immediately." Can you see how this might make it more difficult to perform? (the beginner's luck effect is most prominent in levels with many challenges of many complexities and interactions). 

I'll close with a video of two Time Attack runs I just completed with commentary. Though I've played these levels co-op, this is the first time I attempted low times. The first level was golded in about 7 attempts (each retry is an attempt). The second level was golded in well over 25 attempts. 

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