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Micro-Adaptive Serious Game Improves Working Memory & Fluid Intelligence

Image credit: Project Azriel Bulletproof Brain Training by Curriculaworks

Project Azriel: Bulletproof Brain Training, developed by Curriculaworks, Inc., was selected as a finalist in the 2019 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in the Business/Nonprofit Category.

Project Azriel is a fun, engaging and rigorous cognitive training game designed to improve working memory and fluid intelligence.

The theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence, proposed by psychologist Raymond B. Cattell and developed further with John Horn, challenges and extends the concept of g, or generalized intelligence factor (first described by Charles Spearman in 1904), stating that there are two distinct kinds of intelligence: 
  • Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to reason and solve problems in unique and novel situations without reference to pre-existing knowledge;
  • While crystallized intelligence refers to the ability to use knowledge acquired through past learning or experience.   
According to Project Azriel developers, “In a world where knowledge doubles every five years, the ability to process information and problem solve is extremely critical. Increasing fluid intelligence improves one’s ability to solve new problems, to see connections, and to learn. Fluid intelligence was once thought to be fixed and immutable in adulthood, but recent studies have shown success in improving fluid intelligence in lab environments. Project Azriel demonstrates that an immersive video game can be an effective tool for brain training that increases fluid intelligence outside the lab.”

Delivered as a first-person shooter video game, Project Azriel targets multiple executive functions, the cornerstone of fluid intelligence, including working memory updating, mental set switching, and attentional inhibition. The game is the result of five years of R&D sponsored by the prestigious Office of Naval Research. Its unique approach fully integrates the cognitive tasks into the FPS & TPS gameplay, a brand-new approach to brain training.

Image credit: Project Azriel Bulletproof Brain Training by Curriculaworks

Aimed at anyone age 12+ seeking to improve their working memory and fluid intelligence in a fun, engaging setting, the premise for the game is that the player is member of a small, elite Navy SEALs unit that has been participating in a mind-training program.

At the start, a briefing explains that a biological agent of unknown provenance has been released and is turning those infected into violent, frenzied zombies who are killing and infecting those in their path. The trainee must move from waypoint to waypoint across the city and beyond, collecting data and fighting zombies to eradicate the threat as soon as possible. Scientists have discovered that the only way to fight off the ravaging effects of the bioagent is to engage in intense mental exercise. The trainee must regularly engage in rigorous mental training in order to stay sharp and stay human.

Image credit: Project Azriel Bulletproof Brain Training by Curriculaworks

The game is micro-adaptive, so the player begins with limited NPCs (zombies) and a slow pace until the player’s performance improves. After the player demonstrates mastery of the cognitive training tasks, the game progresses more quickly and intensively.

Project Azriel creates a most successful context for storing and manipulating an increasingly complex combination of cognitive challenges in a progressively fast-paced environment.

The uniqueness of Project Azriel approach can be experienced at the different challenge levels as players collect information, engage in mental exercises, and realize that game goal can only be achieved if they take cognitive biases out of the equation and make better decisions.

In addition, by effectively utilizing micro-adaptivity, Project Azriel responds to one of the most significant challenges in educational computer games: establishing intelligent mechanisms for support, guidance or feedback in a meaningful, personalized way that is embedded in the game's flow and optimizes player learning.

Fun & Science Assumptions & Metrics
Project Azriel: Bulletproof Brain Training promises to be the only first-person shooter zombie-themed video game cognitive trainer tough enough to build fluid intelligence without boring you to death with monotonous brain training activities.

The brain trainer is grounded in research-based cognitive activities delivered in an adaptive fashion that focus first on working memory. Curriculaworks selected the first three induction tasks for Project Azriel based on the work of Dr. Miyake and colleagues who identified three functions consistently cited across studies: updating, shifting, and inhibiting. They adopted these three power executive functions as a foundation for the cognitive training because they cover a broad range of cognition with only a few tasks. Improvements on these three executive functions should be highly effective in improving a player’s intelligence after playing.

Increasing fluid intelligence improves one’s ability to solve new problems, to see connections, and to learn. In a randomized and blinded efficacy study with 165 subjects, participants in the experimental group improved 5 points on average in their Matrix Reasoning Score, a measure of fluid intelligence, a finding that replicates lab studies results in the cognitive training literature.

Image credit: Curriculaworks

The magnitude of the training effect is currently similar to that achieved in lab studies, however, the potential for having individuals willingly engage in cognitive training that is integrated into a first-person shooter game provides considerable improvement over existing laboratory cognitive training programs. Of the participants that completed the study, 88% played more hours than were required. On average these participants played for four uncompensated hours, or 25% above the requirement. Seventy-five percent of participants said they would like an opportunity to play the game more in subsequent research.

Image credit: Curriculaworks

About Curriculaworks
Based in California, US, and led by Deanna Terzian, Curriculaworks’ core competency is building adaptive research-based learning software that works effectively in authentic education and operational environments.