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MIT, visiting Singapore students transform games research with two more new releases

Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab games delve into color theory and recursive learning.
The "Afterland" game signage shows "Afterland" on beige rectangle in front of blue and teal landscape. Below that, The "Poikilia" game signage shows "Poikilia" in dark brown text atop beige backdrop.
Image: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Imagine teaching kids how colors mix: You stand in an art class before young students and say, “When you add different colors, things get darker, like when I mix all these paints together.” As you stir three colors with a brush to make black, a student points to the floor, where light coming through a piece of stained-glass has landed.

“But I’m looking at these colors mixing and they’re brighter.”

Now imagine having a game that could teach why this is so.

The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab today released two more games from its summer program, one of which, Poikilia, uses gameplay to teach concepts of additive and subtractive color theory. Players navigate mazes filled with colored torches and advance through gates only if they have collected or disposed of the right combination of colors.

"We liked the idea of working with additive and subtractive color theories because it's a topic that most people don't have a grasp on at any age,” Poikilia product owner Jason Haas said. “In Massachusetts, we teach it in elementary school, but I bet if you asked the person next to you at work how the two color mixing theories work, you'd get a blank stare.”

“We're also conducting research around narrative in learning games with Poikilia, to see if the story of the game helps players overcome naive conceptions on the topic in order to better facilitate the transfer of knowledge to their lives outside the game," Haas added.

Haas said that, like other puzzle games, Poikilia is “driven by revelation.” His team wanted their game to create a space without time constraints and without, as he put it, “dire consequences of failure” in order to afford for players’ experimentation — for reasoning — until they reach a breakthrough moment.

Timothy Tan, Poikilia’s assistant producer and an Interactive Media Design major at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said he was "inspired and humbled" by his summer experience at MIT.

“My main role as producer was to ensure that the game was finished on time, and that the vision of the game stayed true throughout the process,” Tan said. “I've learnt how to communicate to the team more effectively and, importantly, how to balance between the needs of the team and the end product that we were striving for.” But of colleagues in particular, he added, “I really enjoyed the intellectual climate, surrounded by really smart people everyday. I don't usually get the chance to interact and work with people of different nationalities, and I will say that it has been a very good learning experience.”

The other game released today, Afterland, is just as ambitious in using games to explore learning. Afterland delves into how players adapt to, or become frustrated by, game elements that thwart their expectations for the game’s rules or goals. This experimentation with recursive learning processes has big implications for teachers.

Konstantin Mitgutsch, product owner for Afterland and a visiting scholar with MIT’s Education Arcade, described his team’s challenge. “To overcome unreflected judgments and expectations is a core activity in every learning process,” Mitgutsch said. “The game toys with common game paradigms and thereby fosters the players to overcome their unreflected judgments. How tricky this form of learning is becomes obvious while playing it."

Poikilia’s Haas, mirroring others’ sentiments, wasn’t stingy with praise for his students. "Our team was unbelievable,” he said. “No fuss, no drama -- just creative, diligently produced results. I'm Facebook friends with many of them now, but I do sincerely miss working with them - 8 weeks was too short."

The other GAMBIT Summer Program games are also available to play for free at

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