The Learning Game, Versions 1, 2, and 3.

Sometime around 1995 I began to want to conducte research on associative learning with humans.  Work with rats was, and is, time consuming and tedious.   To do so, I needed a method by which people could associate simple events.  Rather than take what I believe is an overly introspective approach and ask people questions about the events (e.g., to what degree does one predict the other etc..) I prefered to have a behavioral task where their behavior could tell me what they had learned.
The first game I wrote was "Romulans."  It was written in Turbo Pascal 6 using the Borland Graphics Interface.  I hard-coded the drawing of the relevant images, then use memcopy to get a copy of the final image for animation.  It was visually much like an arcade game, and a bit cartoonish.  The premise wasn’t very simple either.  Participants observed a spaceship appear and were instructed that they should attack it if it was safe.  The set of rules I used to determine if it was safe was overly complex, though participants ultimately had little difficulty learning that colored sensors indicated when it was safe to attack or not and behaved appropriately.  The game did not parallel classical conditioning procedures as well as I wanted it to.  In those procedures, two events occur where one typically bears a predictive relationship with the other.  If the CS (conditioned stimulus) occurs, the US (Unconditioned stimulus) follows, regardless of what the participant does.  In my early task, if participants did not attack the ship, it was unclear as to whether or not it would have been safe.  Thus, though the sensor was paired with saftey, that knowledge was not independent of the participants behavior.
The next game was called "Warbirds."  This game was written in C, ran in DOS, and used EMM386 to get enough memory for the graphics.  It featured a 3d romulan warbird that I created with the Povray scene description language.  I rendered out about 360 images showing the ship at various rotations about X and Y.  I used a lookup table to grab the image during gametime.  The universe was a full spherical universe with backgrounds created by a star-trek screensaver.  The participant used a joystick to chase the romulan around the space and colored sensors indicated when missles launched by the participant would imact with the romulan.  This was a farily successful mehtod, but the pairing of the sensor with the ability to shoot the romulan depended on the participant actually shooting at it.  If they, for whatever reason, sat and did nothing, they would never experience a pariring, so again, it really wasn’t what I wanted.
Round 3 was a game my wife (a Basque) named "Spacebird."   It again used a huge database of rendered romulan warbirds at which the participant fired torpedos.  This game was written with Borland C++ Builder Ver 1 and ran in Windows.  Sensors lit up which indicated that the romulan was about to attack.  Participants were instructed to conserve their power when they believed they were about to be attacked and stop shooting.  So, participants sat and clicked a mouse firing torpedos at the romulan and a sensor came on and a few seconds later the romulan attacked and damaged the participants spaceship.  So, this did what I wanted.  The paring of the sensor was independent of the participants behavior.  Yet, participants were motivated to respond to the sensor.  When it came on, they would stop shooting to save their power for the upcoming attack.   The method was analogous to the conditioned emotional response procedure in animal work.  Rats press a lever for food, a tone comes on which is followed by a brief mild shock on the feet.  As rats learn that association, they come to "freeze" when the tone comes on in preparation for the shock, so they stop lever pressing.    Likewise, my participants tell me about what they have learned by suppressing their mouse clicking (torpedo firing) when the sensor comes on.   It proved to be a robust method for studying associative learning and I’ve published two papers with it.
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One Response to The Learning Game, Versions 1, 2, and 3.

  1. Pingback: A pre-exposure effect that is enhanced with a change in context- | Byron's blog.

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