Research in communications and learning through video games

Dr. Rosa Martey is a very upbeat communicator at Colorado State University who really cares about students. Before our interview I was able to watch her counseling a student about research opportunities in her field. Through that conversation I could also see how excited she was about communications, especially in video games.

She says, “I look at games and communities within games, the social norms and social interactions.” Her research is becoming more important as the video game industry grows. Video game revenues worldwide are approximately ten times that of movies, and it’s still rising.


“I think the lines that were drawn between people who would play World of Warcraft (WOW) and those who play Halo, or Call of Duty (COD), are getting blurrier and blurrier,” she explained. At CSU quite a few people play video games, and I have started several conversations based off of what someone was playing at the time.

“You see a kind of movement back and forth of people letting others know they are playing these games, and they become more of these people’s social worlds,” said Dr. Martey. We’ve had solitaire on our computers since Windows was created. There was no sharing of scores, no visible identification with the game, and no opportunity to see other people playing solitaire. Networked games like COD combine these elements and bring gamers together through the Internet. Participants can even chat with people who are not playing the same game through programs like Steam. This breaks the social isolation of gameplay.

Most recently, Rosa has been working on a project funded by Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) through the Air Force Research Laboratory. The project’s leader is Tomek Strzalkowski. The team includes scholars from the State University of New York in Albany, the University of Arizona, Syracuse University, Temple University, and a game development company known as 1st Playable. The focus of the project is to develop and test an educational game which trains players to reduce their reliance on cognitive biases. Dr. Martey said, “Part of that project is to understand the characteristics of games, of players, and their experiences to help people learn that material better.” The game is oriented around memory and whether or not you can put its’ lessons into action. It is not meant to be monetized. The government is funding the project to determine if it can provide good training. A game like this would be especially useful for analysts who cannot allow cognitive biases to prejudice their thinking.

Mario_chalkboard_RosaInterviewIt is understood that studying games helps us understand interaction, learning, and communication. Experts hold out hope that games will be useful in education. The medium uses a very different model than schools to motivate learning. “Games are designed around the notion that you fail until you figure it out. Once you’ve figured it out you go on to the next level. But that failure is either no cost or low-cost. It’s pretty rapid, and you have a lot of feedback to tell you what it was that caused you to fail,” Dr. Martey explained. Games keep track of all of your progress, and failure is an expected part of the process. Traditional scholastic environments treat failure differently. You won’t get to go back to fix any mistakes you made, and you have to move on to the next lesson. To illustrate this example let’s say you make a 50% on a test. That is a failure. There will be no more progress on that test and you have to hope that it will simply work out better next time. Whereas in a video game, if you reach the halfway point in a level you can continue on from that point even if you keep failing. This system of failure and reward has generated intense interest from educators of all levels. Someday you may see Mario in a classroom, as the teacher.