Edutainment and Game Theory Realization through an Open-Source UNESCO Virtual Perspolis Project

by Sepideh Chakaveh, Stefan Werning and Olaf Geuer

The 'Virtual Persepolis' project applies current online game theories to a historical event. The original idea was developed in a Master thesis at at the Fraunhofer Institute for Media Communication and the ERCIM E-Learning Working Group.

This year the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to two game theorists. Robert J. Aumann, an Israeli-American, and Thomas C. Schelling, a US citizen, defined chess-like strategies in politics and business that can be applied to arms races, price wars and actual warfare. Game theory is a distinct and interdisciplinary approach to the study of human behaviour. The disciplines most involved in game theory are mathematics, economics and the other social and behavioural sciences. Game theory (like computational theory and so many other contributions) was founded by the great mathematician John von Neumann. The first important book on the subject was The Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, which von Neumann wrote in collaboration with the great mathematical economist, Oskar Morgenstern.

Principals of Game Theory
The application of game theory in economics relies on the assumption that individuals are absolutely rational in their economic choices. In particular it is assumed that each person maximizes her or his rewards – that is, profits, incomes or subjective benefits – in the circumstances that she or he faces. This hypothesis serves a double purpose in the study of the allocation of resources. Economics is not the only subject associated with game theory: psychology is another field within which, through the theory of social situations, game theory is interwoven. Although here the relevance is more to parlour games such as poker or bridge, most research focuses on how groups of people interact.

The strength of game theory lies in the fact that no parameter is fixed. Only the boundaries are predefined, since decisions must be made in accordance with the status quo. This idea is not new in computer science, as it defines a quintessential element of decision-making in almost all autonomous systems. A simple analogy is a robot moving on a course: when it encounters an obstacle, it must decide which route to take in order to arrive at its final goal. In some cases the robot may also decide whether to move over the obstacle, if the dimensions or materials permit.

Edutainment and Game Theory
In the recent years, educational research has shown that peer-to-peer teaching reinforces mastery. Moreover, educators have recognized the value of practical experience and competition. For instance, students can design and build robots which then compete against one other in navigating through an obstacle course. However, a lack of resources or other factors may limit the situations in which this is possible. In contrast, a computer simulation of such a competition would enable more rapid prototyping and further refinement, and could expand the total number of students who can properly share in the experience. Games may also enable teachers to observe their students' problem-solving strategies in action and to assess their performance in realistic situations. Teachers may also demonstrate a particularly difficult problem during a lecture and discuss possible solutions. After all, demonstrating the principles of Newtonian physics using gears, pulleys and levers may be more compelling than chalk on the blackboard. It is not just that games can help one do better on the test; games could become the test.

Virtual Persepolis Project
The original idea for this project was first developed in a Masters thesis in 2003, at the Fraunhofer Institute IMK and the ERCIM E-Learning Working Group. In this research, MULE (Multi-User Learning Environment) systems and actual online game theories are applied to historical events. The Virtual Persepolis project was implemented through an appropriate Internet 3D Game Engine. The visualization centred on a reconstruction of part of the Apadana Palace.

Persepolis Project screenshot.

In this scenario, a tutor can use rich multimedia tools (eg pictures, 2D and 3D animations, maps, music, audio and video) to illustrate architectural, historical and cultural facts. The players of the game (in this case represented by Persian Guards) are simulated by avatars, each of which bears a national and cultural identity described by the predefined parameters of game theory. Persian soldiers with appropriate decision-making capabilities were realized through Artificial Intelligence (AI), which are variables in this programme. This could for instance depend on which side of the Apadana Palace one would face them and which route they take in the palace.

The principle of collaborative learning through role playing and interactive virtual systems allows the user to experience an event as it unfolds, and thus learn to make appropriate decisions on the fly. This is of course only true when the input parameters and boundaries are assumed to be accurate and realistic. This implies that the decisions made by virtual characters (or players) based on AI can only be correctly determined when the defined parameters are realistic.

Tying advances in Web-based edutainment systems to the sound and challenging concepts of game theory allows interesting areas of research to be explored that are not bounded by computer science alone. With the application of low-end virtual reality and artificial intelligence, a number of long-awaited scenarios may be simulated by anyone who has access to the Internet. This provides a unique and powerful tool for learning, planning and experiencing events which until very recently were limited to the very privileged.


Please contact:
Sepideh Chakaveh, ERCIM E-Learning and Edutainment Working Group coordinator
Institute for Media Communication, Fraunhofer ICT Group