Puzzle Quest: Pattern Recognition

This morning, as I looked at my desktop and its excessive clutter of icons, my eyes were immediately drawn to places where I could form rows of three similar icons by swapping adjacent ones. This is a familiar phenomenon. You play a game, it trains your brain. It can feel like the game is taking over your mind, but I’d explain it in more benign terms: Visual pattern recognition is something we humans are highly optimized for, and a game as fundamentally abstract as this gives your brain patterns that it can spot in all sorts of places. It doesn’t know at first that it’s only supposed to look for the pattern in the context of the game, but it usually figures this out after a while.

It isn’t even really a phenomenon limited to videogames. I experienced similar things when I was learning to play Go: I’d walk into a cinema, say, and see what seats were taken, and automatically decide where the next person should be seated to increase defensive strength most efficiently. There may be something about grids in particular that encourage this kind of thought. Grids are ubiquitous in both games and in our artificial modern environment, but they aren’t seen in nature. So I can imagine that the brain’s pattern recognition subroutines, having evolved to deal with natural things, would tend to see all grids as anomalies and thus as likely manifestations of the same thing. But this is pure speculation.

Anyway, having just come off a stint of The Typing of the Dead, this all seems like more evidence of the medium’s underutilized potential as a training tool. If we’re going to be teaching our brains to do tricks, they might as well be useful tricks, no?