Saturday, March 03, 2007

Gardner and the Multiple Intelligences of Boardgames

One of the most valuable concepts that Biggie has learned in three and a bit years of school can be summed up in one small quote: “I accept your apology.”

When I was at school, the vast majority of our learning was “curriculum material” – English, maths, science, and so on. These days, though, the teaching encompasses areas that may not be part of the typical curriculum. Take “I accept your apology,” for example – I remember being informed by a grave-faced 6 year old that you should NEVER say “That’s okay” when someone apologises, because it WASN’T okay at all when they did it. This is the overt discussion that is helping our children to interact better with others and become more confident in those interactions and more assertive in their relationships..

Leading on from this, Biggie’s class’s main focus for the term is “How we learn”. They’ve been talking overtly about how they approach tasks, as well as more explicit discussion about learning. Last week, she came home with a set of categories that describe the way children learn – clearly based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard, believed that traditional definitions of intelligence were too limited. He suggested a set of seven different types of intelligence:
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence
  • Interpersonal intelligence
  • Intrapersonal intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Musical intelligence
  • Spatial intelligence
  • Verbal or Linguistic intelligence

Later, Gardner suggested an eighth intelligence be added to the set:

  • Naturalistic intelligence

There is also discussion of a possible ninth “Existentialist” intelligence – defined as “asking the big questions”. In the classroom, this led to the following conversation:

L (child in the class): “Why are we even learning about

Biggie (smartass in the making): “If you ask that, then you
are an existentialist learner.”

Now, I’m a novice at Gardner and at educational psychology, but it is interesting to apply Gardner’s theories to games – more specifically, to classify games into these ‘intelligence’ categories. This may also help to suggest why some people are naturally drawn to games where others lack interest, and why different gamers are drawn to different types of game.

Bodily-Kinaesthetic intelligence

These people learn best by using their body. This is the home of dexterity games – Make ‘n’ Break, Bamboleo, Tier auf Tier, Carabande, Hamsterrolle. Also of children’s games like Dancing Eggs and Balance. This is a very under-represented part of Fraser’s and my games collection, and one which I’m trying to build up at the moment.

Interpersonal intelligence

This category is concerned with the ability of the individual to relate to others – to “understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people.” I think this is the province of co-operative games (including those with a traitor, like Shadows over Camelot) as well as ‘psychology’ games like Werewolf. This is also where the diplomacy elements in negotiation and alliance-building games like Diplomacy belongs.

Intrapersonal intelligence

This is the ability to understand yourself and your own motivations and desires. It’s also my stumbling block – I can’t think of a single game that you play with yourself in order to get to know yourself better! Except for working out whether you cheat, that is …

Logical-mathematical intelligence

According to Gardner, this ability enables someone to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. As well as games addressing direct mathematical concepts like Halli Galli and Plus and Minus, the deductive quality of this ‘intelligence’ includes games like Cluedo (Clue) or Mystery of the Abbey.

Musical intelligence

This is the intelligence associated with recognising musical notes and patterns. I found it hard to identify games in this domain, but I think that listening games like Igloo Pop and Hear ‘n’ Seek probably fit this category. Musical trivia games would also suit this category.

Spatial intelligence

This is the ability to recognise and use patterns. I’d say that Carcassonne and other tile-laying games fit this category very clearly. Other games that include a spatial element include movement planning games like The Amazing Labyrinth and Fearsome Floors as well as games with limited playing area like Princes of Florence. And I think this is also the place for Blink and Set. (Is it also the place for Settlers? I think so)

Verbal or linguistic intelligence

It’s easy to find games that explore verbal or linguistic intelligence. Apples to Apples, Attribut, Scrabble, Boggle, Scattergories spring to mind immediately, but there are so many word games out there it would take days to list them all.

Naturalistic intelligence

This is the “nature smarts” intelligence, and seems to be less clearly defined than the other intelligences that Gardner identifies. I can think of games with a theme of nature, but I’m drawing a blank in identifying games that actually apply the skills of naturalistic intelligence (“a proficiency in identifying, understanding, organizing, and classifying patterns in the natural environment or the plant, animal and human world.”) – and I need to read more about this intelligence to see whether general classification and organisation skills are included here (and, if so, what its relation to logical/mathematical intelligence would be). It's possible that the "guess the animal's bottom" game that I picked up today (Popolino, from Selecta - not yet on the 'Geek) might fit this category.

Existential intelligence

The ability to be sensitive to, or have the capacity for, conceptualizing or tackling deeper or larger questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why are we born, why do we die, what is consciousness, or how did we get here. Again, I’m not sure that this is reflected in any games – or maybe I’m playing the wrong kids of games!

Of course, individual games don’t belong to one category exclusively. I proposed Apples to Apples as a verbal/linguistic game, but it’s definitely also a game of interpersonal skills, guessing which card the judge will pick. Similarly, Attribut is a verbal/linguistic game with bodily-kinaesthetic elements (grabbing the card first) as well as interpersonal elements. Make ‘n’ Break involves pattern recognition (spatial) as well as dexterity (bodily/kinaesthetic skills) and many games involve interpersonal skills, not only in negotiating but also in predicting what others will do.

Sources & Further reading:


Gerald McD said...

Interesting concept. I propose that puzzles might be the Intrapersonal "game" category. You can learn some things about yourself by noting how you are attracted to and solve puzzles.

The Naturalistic category might include the game Quirks.

I'll pass on the Existential category for the time being.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but one must always keep in mind that there are as many types of stupidity as there are types of intelligence. May be even a few more.

ekted said...

There a good book called "A Mind at a Time" by Dr Mel Levine that discusses the different ways that people learn: text, visual, audio, taking notes, hands on, models, etc. It seems it would complement your topics quite nicely.

Smatt said...

I would venture poker as having an aspect of the 'intrapersonal intelligence' game. You have to explore various aspects of your own game identity (who you are at the game table) in order to limit other people's knowledge and understanding of your actions.

Smatt said...

Also, I don't know if this counts, but when playing Carcassonne with ALL of the expansions, my mind tends to drift toward some of the topics under your 'existential intelligence'... like "what am I doing here?"

Melissa said...

Gerald: Hmm - wouldn't puzzles be mostly dependent on the content (with a side of logical-mathematical)?

I think that you and smatt might be onto something, though, that awareness of how you yourself solve puzzles or play a game is the intrapersonal element of most games. What I was trying to find was a game with the intrapersonal element at its core - and I don't think such a thing can exist.

Bruno: Oh, absolutely. :)

Jim: Sounds interesting. I have a couple of other ideas that I'd like to explore along similar lines.

smatt: See above comments to Gerald. I agree that there are intrapersonal elements to most games (although I think interactions with others probably are interpersonal, even when it's you analysing your own) - what I was trying to find was whether there was a game that actually was fundamentally based on the concept.

And LOL - for me, it's Snakes and Ladders as an existentialist choice. "Why am I doing this? How can I change my fate?"

Pawnstar said...

I know nothing of this Gardner fellow, so I can't really grasp why he seems to have omitted most of the sensory elements of intelligence (there are visual and auditory which falls into more than one category). Would that be a subclass of naturalistic intelligence? Would they be classed as a form of intelligence at all? I know of a few games that rely on senses; for example there is a game I have where you try to identify a smell (from fifteen or so bottles - not much replayability unfortunately).

Where would The Ungame fit? Intrapersonal to some extent surely; perhaps even existential at a push?

Anonymous said...

I don't think these have been omitted, it is the same as the difference between sensation and perception. Musical Intelligence relies heavily on auditory skill, bodily kinasthetic and spatial intelligence can relate to tactile faculties, and so forth. I'm not sure where the smelling game would fit - i suspect that the Naturalistic Intelligence would cover some of that... but am happy to be corrected!
These intelligences are useful as a scaffold for helping to thnk about games, for helping to classify them to some extent. it provides a useful metalanguage that can aid in the discussion of game types and even gamer types.

Bruno - I think there are roughly 6 billion types, and counting ;)

An interesting article Melissa! thanks! There is also a great series of reviews on BGG that talk about Gardener's Intelligences by mib66 (i think that's his username) - I'd post a link but my internet system at work filters BGG out :(
Probably for the best that!!