I first learned about game theory as a sophomore at Princeton while taking Introduction to Microeconomics, surrounded by 300+ students in a dimly lit lecture hall.
Alpha L2 students (fifth and sixth grade) were introduced to game theory last month as they played the popular app-based video game Among Us. I’d bet your middle school student plays Among Us on their phone (maybe you do, too).
Among Us is a social deduction online video game. Players randomly receive one of two roles: Imposter or Crewmate. Crewmates can win either by identifying the Imposters and removing them from the game through a popular vote or by completing all of their assigned “tasks.” The Imposter’s goal is to sabotage and kill the Crewmates to secure a win.
So, how does Among Us relate to game theory?
Simply put, game theory is a branch of math where multiple “players” use strategies to approach a situation where the outcome of one player’s actions depends on the actions of another player. During this workshop, Alpha students analyzed strategies for both Imposters and Crewmates and deduced how their actions should change based on the other players in the game.
The Game Theory Learning Process
Using a structured approach, students gained valuable game theory skills, but they also built their rationality quotient (the Alpha view: rational thinking is 100% teachable) and they learned-to-learn. The workshop followed the steps below:
1. Using the scientific method and experimental validity.
Students began by designing controls for the game. Examples of controls included game speed and kill distance. They identified variables (the strategies they’d utilize) and they determined the experiment’s question. In this case, it was: What is the best strategy to win Among Us as a Crewmate and as an Imposter? Finally, each student wrote several hypotheses detailing the best strategies for winning Among Us.
Students played Among Us on iPads, tracking their roles (Imposter/Crewmate), strategies, and outcomes (win/loss) for each game. We recorded a master list of all the strategies incorporated into gameplay and calculated student win/loss rate based on those strategies.
Following experimentation, we moved into the research phase. Students began by utilizing a variety of learning resources: from YouTube videos of successful Among Us Players to popular blogs, students compiled a list of new strategies, which they compared to their original hypotheses. Then, we discussed what confirmed their original theories, what proved them wrong, etc.
4. Revising predictions.
Using the knowledge gained from both experimentation and research as well as a variety of logic puzzles to improve reasoning ability (think: Sudoku, LSAT sample questions, etc), students made new predictions. They even incorporated some new logical reasoning vocabulary in their predictions (premises, antecedents, consequents, etc).
5. Experimentation (Part 2!).
Students set forth to test the success of the strategies they researched. As a class, we divided the researched strategies for students to include in their experimental trials. Once again, we played Among Us on iPads, recording roles, strategies, and outcomes for each game.
6. Learning game theory intricacies.
While in the thick of experimentation, we discussed the prisoner’s dilemma, a game in which each player wants to maximize their own advantage, even though cooperation between the players would result in a higher joint payoff. Students developed their own prisoner’s dilemma matrices for Among Us situations and practiced playing them in the game.
Students also determined Pareto efficiencies, Pareto improvements, and Nash equilibria for each of their games. They created payoff matrices for various strategies, both during gameplay and while voting.
7. Live play.
To spice things up, students developed gameplay rules for an in-person version of Among Us. Students got into character, sporting Among Us beanies and completing pre-determined tasks, such as “pick up three pieces of trash” or “army crawl across the Flex Room.” In addition to using the strategies they’d learned, students experimented with how they reported dead bodies, spoke at meetings, and completed their tasks. They used logical reasoning vocabulary at meetings to deduce the Imposters’ identities.
8. The final stand: the Among Us tournament.
Our final activity was an online Among Us tournament. Students competed against each other, tracking win/loss results. Using the strategies that had proven successful during experimentation, most win rates were significantly higher than the control trials, demonstrating that students’ learned strategies worked.
A video game workshop? A win for students! But in true Alpha style, students also secretly learned logical reasoning, statistics, and a whole lot of game theory along the way.