I am not much of a game player, except for an interest in Texas Hold'em. I believe that computer games offer a new way to improve children's learning, but it is not an area that interests me. A recent article in Wired, "How an Entirely New, Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley" got me thinking about Go and chess, two of the oldest and most popular games in the world. Go was developed in China in the 4th century BC and chess was invented in India in the 6th century. Why have these games been so popular for so long.
Both Go and chess are widely admired as complex strategy games, which in part explains their popularity. However, it may be that the popularity of both games is also because they develop a different way of thinking--paternicity or pattern recognition. Patern recognition may be a third way of thinking, in addition to visual and verbal. The Wired article states:
"For a century now, chess has been the petri dish of choice for cognitive scientists. What makes a chess master a chess master? Definitely not words. But not pictures, either (which is what you might think). When a chess master looks at the board, she doesn’t see every game she’s ever played and then find the move that matches the move from a game she played three or five or twenty years earlier or from a nineteenth-century chess match that she’s studied closely. The stereotype of a chess grand master is someone who can think many moves ahead. And certainly, many chess players do strategize that way. But the grand masters retrieve from their memories not more possibilities but better possibilities because they are better at recognizing and retaining patterns or what cognitive scientists call chunks."
While everybody uses visual, verbal and pattern recognition ways of thinking, certain disciplines generally require a particular way of thinking. For example, pattern recognition is widely used in mathematics, engineering and certain sciences. Pattern recognition is also an important skill in programming, as the Wired article explains.
John Von Neumann, the great 20th century mathematician, said that chess was "trivial" because at any point in a game one could identify all the remaining moves in a game (with enough computing power). Watson, the IBM computer that beat the world chess champion in 1997, perhaps proved Von Neumann correct. However, in this case the computer was programmed to utilize a Von Neumann type strategy and not pattern recognition. Never the less, Chess remains widely popular, and approached correctly, can develop pattern recognition skills. Go offers the same way to improve one's thinking.