Traveller IQ Challenge and Learning

The Traveller IQ Challenge, besides being a great little bit of casual-game design, strikes me as showing how potentially useful certain kinds of instant-feedback quizzes and games could be in a fully wired classroom, while also showing the limitations of the kind of knowledge you could produce this way.

I’m trying to improve my scores on the Facebook version of the various Traveller games. (I’m gunning for ya, Dan Nexon!) I’m really struck at what kinds of learning are happening each time I play an iteration of the game. I get more precise at identifying precisely where places are that I know well, which is partly just a fine-motor coordination, physical thing, but also partly learning that will carry over. “Oh, that’s the precise place that Algiers is, I knew it was on that half of the Algerian coast.” I’ve also learned to precisely locate places that I had only a general knowledge of. “Oh, that’s right, Astana is up in that corner of Kazakhstan.”

The ability to learn and retain the location of places that you completely do not know is more limited, it seems to me, but is indexed somewhat against the incentive value of learning that information. I’m working really hard to remember where certain cities in Russia and Australia are, because if you go to the wrong end of either one, the score consequences are brutal. I have a few clues to help me (I’m sad to say that for Russia, one of them is playing a lot of Risk as a kid). On the other hand, I’m finding it almost impossible to locate the more obscure Pacific island nations and places with any degree of reliability, and the score consequences for that error are equally dire. I could tell you things about the ethnography of Melanesia, but on the map? It’s “out there” somewhere.

The Africa-specific map also revealed to me something about what I know and don’t know about Africa. Namely, I know the names of only two football teams well. That’s changing rapidly, but it was still interesting to discover that my knowledge of African football was so situational and occasional. E.g., I watch a game if I have the chance, but never really follow it attentively. Also, I’m finding that if something’s North African, I basically don’t know it. Some intuitive clues help with sorting certain Egyptian and Moroccan place names, but that’s about it. Considering that on the final map, Zimbabwean places like Gweru, Kadoma and Mana Pools show up, I’m not feeling too bad about struggling with some of the North and West African names at that level of specificity.

Of course, none of this gives anybody any uses for this information. Gweru means something to me because I know a lot about it, I know what makes it a place. I can see it in my mind. I now know solidly where Darwin, Australia is, and I vaguely remember that it’s tropical and in an area that’s fairly underpopulated and that there are crocodiles there (I think), which fits with its location. But some of the other places I can now pinpoint in seconds on a map? I haven’t a clue about them besides their names, and so it’s not particularly useful knowledge except for helping me to do well at a game.

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8 Responses to Traveller IQ Challenge and Learning

  1. North Africa is really a challenge. For one, it’s harder to guess where an unkown place could be from the sound and the spelling of a name. And then there’s the fact that only Morrocco doesn’t have a capital that overshadows the rest of the country. That was also an issue with anything Ethiopia.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, when I don’t know it, I often guess wrong about whether it’s Morocco or Ethiopia. A lot of Amharic place names “sound” a particular way to me, so sometimes I guess right, but sometimes not. Sudan also messes stuff up for me in a few cases.

  3. Laura says:

    Perhaps the game could be combined with another game or resource that provides more information about places, puts them in historical and political context as well as geographical. Now you’ve given me something to do over break. 🙂

  4. Timothy Burke says:


    One key thing about this from a game-design standpoint is speed. The pace of the game itself is what allows it to be played over and over again in a very short time frame, which I think is key to what allows it to be a learning tool. The problem with so many “serious” or “learning” games designed by educators to educate is that they miss out on some of these kinds of subtle but essential elements of design, and so often make a leaden, didactic, very unfun sort of game. At which point you might as well call it a test or a lecture and give up the pretense.

    So I almost think it’s best to start from the game side and think about the pedagogy secondarily.

  5. lknobel says:

    But you haven’t told us what your Traveller IQ is.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    138 on the Original World Challenge (617, 458 pts.). This morning.

  7. Rana says:

    I’m finding it quite addictive too.

    What it reveals is fascinating; who knew that I would do so well with Europe and the Middle East, but completely suck at Canada and Africa in general (though I’m good at Egypt).

    There’s some other online geography quiz that works better as an educational tool (for one thing, the maps are larger, allowing for more precision); if I remember correctly, it combines things like location, shape of country, part of world, and so on.

  8. barry says:

    I got 114. that’s pretty good, considing that (a) I botched Africa; (b) Indonesia and the Carribean islands are large, and can give very large errors.

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