Can Video Games Correct Bias?

There’s been some attention paid to video games and their potential for teaching people real life lessons. Recently, the University of Albany – who I will continue to sing the praises of until they cancel my alumni library account – has won a large grant to produce a video game that will teach players to recognize their own cognitive biases. From the press release:

“Although people are hard wired to attend to certain information and disregard other information when making decisions, we can train them through a carefully designed game to become more aware of this process,” [Jennifer] Stromer-Galley said. “Our game can provide them cognitive tools and ways of thinking to circumvent the harmful effects of biases that can lead to bad decisions.”

Although cognitive biases can sometimes be helpful in familiar situations or in dealing with predictable threats, they can lead to catastrophic failures in assessment of unfamiliar and unpredictable adversaries. “The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq weapons of mass destruction debacle are two well publicized examples in our recent history,” explained Strzalkowski. “Such critical errors in decision making are what we want our game to train people to avoid.”

That’s a very interesting idea. Can video games really change the way we think? Game designer Jane McGonigal gave a TED talk suggesting that games can solve many of the worlds problems by making people more collaborative and self-motivated: