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Helping Gamers Tackle Open-Ended Problems

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Helping Gamers Tackle Open-Ended Problems

Gamers are good at solving closed-ended problems

Gamers are very good closed-ended problem-solvers. In a game, there is a particular objective and a set of tools or assets. Gamers have to figure out how to use the set of rules to accomplish a certain goal. They are experts at coming up with an optimal solution when they are given a particular sandbox to work in.

Gamers have difficulty solving open-ended problems

However, gamers can struggle with real life situations which are open-ended problems. Without a particular sandbox to work with, sometimes gamers feel stuck.

“Gamers can sometimes struggle with abstract problems that don’t have a particular set of tools,” Dr. Kanojia said. “When our brain spends a lot of time playing games, it starts to optimize working within that kind of closed-ended framework.”

This can translate to real life issues. For example, abstract tasks such as gaining financial independence, finding a stable partner or getting in shape can be especially challenging (for anyone, and especially for gamers), because there isn’t a clear step-by-step way to solve them.

How to operationalize open-ended problems

Dr. Kanojia calls the process of breaking abstract challenges into step-by-step pieces “operationalizing.” Operationalizing is the process of moving from point A to point Z. For example, if we want to operationalize the financial independence process, we start to break that process down, such as first opening a bank account and finding a place to live.

The reason that gamers have trouble with operationalizing is that games perform that process for them. “There is a part of your brain called frontal lobes, which lets you plan and execute actions. People who game excessively have frontal lobes that are sort of underdeveloped because the game has been doing that work for them,” Dr. Kanojia said. As a result, gamers are good at putting the pieces together but they struggle with figuring out what the pieces are.  

Dr. Kanojia argues that open-ended problem-solving has nothing to do with intelligence and laziness; rather, it’s a learned skill that can be taught. “We can teach gamers how to break down an abstract problem into pieces,” Dr. Kanojia said. “If we can transform an open-ended problem into a close-ended problem, then your analytical mind will take over and you will have no problem whatsoever.”

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