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Cognition - Using RPGs to enhance the learning process

by Hawke Robinson published Nov 29, 2017 07:55 AM, last modified Dec 08, 2022 03:00 PM
A recent assignment for a cognitive neuroscience class. This is a simple, quick essay for one of our assignments. It isn't very well put together, because the assignments are only worth about 1-10 points out of 1,000, while the tests add up to 800 points of the total grade, so please forgive the lack of formality. Hopefully you still find the information listed, useful. I hope in the future to write a much better, more formal version, and am posting this here as a placeholder for me to hopefully work on it in the future.

Name: W. A. Hawkes-Robinson

Lab #4 (Due Wednesday 11/29/2017)


  1. Describe 3 techniques that can be used to increase the likelihood that you will encode information into your memory (these can be encoding techniques or study techniques that we discussed in class or that are presented in your book).


Avoid divided attention situations, keeping distractions from the topic being studied to a minimum.

Deep level processing (172), including using “why questions” (173), to improve elaboration & distinctiveness (173). To further the elaboration, focus on the specific meaning of the concept, and try to relate it to prior knowledge and to interconnected concepts that you have already learned (172). create and answer “why questions (173)

Distributed-practice / differential learning. Spread learning & retrieval/rehearsal trials out over time, rather than “massed learning” aka cramming. Address limitations of Short Term Memory (STM) to Long Term Memory (LTM) process, and have the study time broken up into shorter segments, with breaks in between, or topic shifts alternating, for a more distributed learning approach over time, rather than trying to cram (mass learning) in a very short time.

Over-confidence, or inaccurate self-assessment of competency areas. Use techniques and/or technologies that provide more objective feedback on areas you are struggling with, and help direct more time in the areas needing more work, and less time in the areas actually already mastered.

Though not part of this question, I have to emphasize, because it is my greatest struggle, get enough sleep. Only 1-4 hours a day is my average and a real impairment alas. All of the above is inhibited by this, as well as various medications necessary for breathing that completely impair cognitive functioning for many hours. Ah well.


  1. Describe the 2 most common techniques you have used to study in past (be honest, you are not being graded on whether these techniques are effective or not). Based on what you now know about memory, are these techniques effective? Why or why not?

When (usually) little-to-no-time is available between raising 3 kids full-time as a single father, plus running 4 companies with employees and volunteers, struggling with health & medication issues, very little time for sleep, day-to-day issues (bills, groceries, house maintenance, cleaning, car maintenance, etc.), and juggling school, often unfortunately, exhausted and not feeling up to more creative/effective solutions, out of pure exhaustion I unfortunately just fall back on straight brute-force rehearsal, though usually through electronic flash cards assessment tools like jMemorize, if even time for that. While I try to make it more distributed practice, it all too often ends up toward the end with a large chunk of mass learning (cramming).

With a little more time (rarely), and if enough sleep (even more rarely), I try to incorporate a story scenario. An ideal example elaborated upon in the answer to Question #3, which addresses the whole combination of techniques from question #1.


  1. Map out an ideal study plan for the final exam. Using the best techniques, discuss what you would do between now and the final exam to maximize your performance. Make sure to talk about how you would incorporate the 3 techniques you discussed in question #1.


Role-playing game / scenario / story embedded learning/knowledge.

I almost never have any study partners. A combination of my location and age difference makes this generally rare, so I need to usually rely on solo methods. When I have time to properly prepare, I still use jMemorize but in a more distributed fashion as an assessment tool. The process of just creating the cards helps initially. Then as I run through the flashcard tests, and find some content is not “sticking” as well as other content, for the content that I am struggling with (jMemorize provides tracking on where I’m struggling more), I try to then turn the information into a more deep-processing, layered, distinctively connected, narrative embedded learning/knowledge/cued retrieval setting, such as creating a role-playing gaming scenario to play out in my head (or better yet in an actual RPG setting).

Here is something just from the top of my head for this assignment that roughly illustrates the concept:

My character walks into a tavern (even the details of this character can have useful information). In one end of the room, there is a man sitting at a table skinning a cat. There is a glass box on a pedestal to his left containing a baby sleeping within, and on the counter behind him are pigeons playing a small piano. As he argues with the person opposite him, letters of words float out of his mouth (enter a few key words that I see there, such as “behaviorist”, “100% environment”, “operant conditioning”, etc.).

Just opposite him, also seated at the table is a man “chomping” on a cookie shaped like a gnome held in one hand, while he grabs words out of the air from around him, and tries to shove some these words into the irregular parts of the box on the table.

On the table between the two arguing men, there is a large, solid gray box in the shape of a human brain. The box has some irregularities in it where some key language development should have taken place, gaps of “nothingness” in the box.

While they ignore the pleas of the child in the box the two men keep arguing with each other, words floating out of their mouths. Some of the simplest words from Skinner just “float” into the brain box, regardless of the part of the brain they land on, they enter.

There are also sounds emanating from within the box, of a child growling and only using occasional simple words: “food”, “potty”, etc.

While some of the simplest individual words from Chomsky also float in, those that hit the blank parts of the “brain-box”, bounce out, and most of the more complex words or sentences he grabs from the air and tries to shove into the blank spots on the “brain-box”, and the words just bounce off, and Chomsky points angrily at the bouncing words, and then at Skinner.

They are both furiously arguing with each other.”


I could keep elaborating much more, but you get the idea.

This addresses a much better deep processing approach, with abundant cues for encoding and retrieval, and pulls upon existing knowledge in layers. It uses a somewhat coherant narrative to help associate a complex series of information.

But, this process takes a lot of time to “get it right”. If more classes were taught using this technique, research seems to indicate on multiple fronts that is a much more effective instructional approach. There is a slowly increasing number of schools all over the world incrementally integrating this technique into their programs with great results. (RPG Research)

In the most ideal situation, I would have study partners.

I would be interacting as a player, assuming the role of some character (Player Character (PC)) meaningful to me in the context of the subject being studied, with someone else as the game master (GM). I would walk into this tavern and/or other locations, and the GM would explain the setting, and then ask me, as my character is standing there, “what do you do”. And we would begin an interactive, narrative, exploratory process in the tavern, revealing all the information I would need for the upcoming test in a narrative fashion. This would verbally include rich multi-sensory cues (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, etc.) and cognitive puzzles/riddles/games-within-the-game. Even better this would be done with a “study group” of fellow “players” as we worked cooperatively to find all the information we need to complete our “quest”. This is something I do for others, and it has been amazingly effective for those participants. Unfortunately I do not (yet) have anyone at a level (yet) to do it for me.

The unusual imagery combinations provide some distinctiveness, while the narrative, story/game driven approach allows significant opportunities for elaboration, variety of cues, etc. Especially tying it in with a character that somehow resonates for me personally, can enhance the self-reference effects (173).

Also, setting this up in an imagined location that I can retrieve again at will, may help with the inconsistent environmental effects of the encoding-specificity-principle (174), by providing, in my imagination at least, a more consistent environment for me to encode and recall the information, regardless of the actual physical environmental differences between studying at home and taking the test in the classroom. It would be interesting to test this, using the scuba diver style research, to see if this imaginative approach made no, some, or significant difference.


All the above is ideal.

Realistically, it will be a great miracle to significant benefit if I can just:

1. Get enough sleep in the days/weeks leading up to the test.

2. Not have to do breathing treatments or other medications during the weeks leading up to the final. These medications cause significant cognitive impairments that can last 2-3 days after use (various inhaled steroids and anti-inflammatories, etc.). But also not being able to breathe definitely impacts cognition, so it is a fine line.

3. Have enough time to turn my copious notes into flashcards in jMemorize.

4. Take sufficient time for differential learning / distributed practice to be useful, over time, and avoid cramming as much as possible.

5. Have enough time to run through the flash cards 2-3 times, by section/category, to identify the problem areas, and then target those areas.

6. Last step is ideal, but least likely to happen due to time constraints, Ideally, for the problem areas, create example story narratives in my head similar to the above, and then use jMemorize until assessment indicates all areas have reached sufficient competency.




Matlin, M. W. Cognition. 8th Edition. (2013). Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, NJ.

RPG Research. Viewed November 29th, 2017.