Friday, April 29, 2011

Gamesters: only Extroverts?

On my trip to BIRS in January, I met a slew of awesome gamesters. Everyone was extremely friendly and I had intense conversations with many different people. Perhaps this is easy when there is a common ice-breaker: "Want to play a game?" People only turned this down when it got late; otherwise they were all eager for the challenge.

Does this mean everyone there was an extrovert? Does combinatorial game theory lend itself more towards extroverts? Will introverts find a hard time breaking into the field?

As I think back to the workshop, I don't recall a single person that came across as shy. There may have been some language barriers, perhaps, but those don't usually cause a problem if both players know the rules to a game. Of course, if you sit down and play quietly, you may never find out whether your opponent is introverted.

I'm somewhat worried that introverts may have a hard time being interested in games and CGT as a result. (There are similar reasons I worry that introverted students aren't getting all the benefits my extroverted students are.) I can see that many people might be intimidated by a class based around something so inherently competitive. Despite the fact that no grades are determined by students' actual ability to play games, I understand the completely irrational fear of not wanting to die in a video game.

Perhaps I needn't worry. Perhaps games and puzzles attract an introverted personality. It is easy to confuse introverts with shy or quiet people; the two do not always go hand in hand.

Wikipedia describes introversion as "a personality trait involving a tendency to drive one's perceptions, actions, thoughts and emotions inside, resulting in reduced interest in activity directed to the outside world." Taking the time to study and consider a game state may induce the same sort of energy as spending time alone for some introverts.

Oh dear, I'm getting into a space I know nothing about. Anyone have any thoughts on this?


  1. Well, I'm definitely an introvert (and am rather shy) and interested in CGT. So, I'd be very unlikely to walk up to you and challenge you to a game of domineering (although I'd be likely to accept a challenge from you), but I'll happily sit at home and read a paper about games. Competitive activities aren't problematical at all: I play in chess tournaments regularly.

  2. I don't think the Wikipedia definition you used above accurately defines introversion. To me, shyness and social withdrawal are not necessarily linked with introversion.

    One of the best descriptions I've heard for Intraversion and Extraversion on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a common personality profile) is "People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. Conversely, those who prefer introversion expend energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again."

    I think that both types of people can derive enjoyment from CGT, but they do so in different ways. Modifying the pattern above, extroverts prefer to play the games with others, then consider the games alone, then play the games with others while introverts prefer to consider the games alone, then play the games with others, then consider the games alone. In both cases, they are deriving enjoyment from the games, but are doing so in different ways. It's just a different preference as to the proportion of the task.

    Perhaps conventions like BIRS tend to draw people who prefer to meet other people and play games, and I imagine that those who write papers on CGT tend to be those who prefer to reflect on them alone.

    I'd encourage you to run your class catering to the preferences of both types of people, helping the extroverts by allowing time to learn by interacting with other people and playing games and introverts by assigning meaningful assignments that allows for them to learn through reflection. Some students will learn more from one or the other, but neither is wrong and both will help fuel a passion for CGT.

  3. abagoffruit and Thunderforge,

    these are excellent comments! How can I get introverted students into my office to play a game?