Bejeweled, Tetris and Pattern Recognition

I’ve been spending far too much time recently playing Bejeweled on my Palm. I really should be finishing The Iliad, a goal I set for myself after seeing a trailer for the new movie last year; I’m only on Book IV, and Diomedes has just swindled some guy of his fancy gold armor.

But it’s an interesting puzzle game. Rather, it’s not quite a puzzle game, but a game of quick pattern recognition against a cluttered background. You have to get at least three of the same type of “jewel” in a row to clear out that set. Since you can only swap horizontally and vertically, only a small set of patterns of jewel placement are useable. So, you can through the board repeatedly, looking for two-in-a-rows or V-shapes. My screen is black and white, so this is a bit harder than in color. I also play the timed version, so the scan-and-recognize cycles have to be very quick. The untimed game seems uninteresting, since you can fully scan the board to look for the correct patterns at your leisure.

One thing to note is that, unlike in, say, Tetris, which Bejeweled is compared to for some reason, you can’t improve your position. Because of the randomization of the filled in board, your start position is more or less the same as at any other point in the game. The only difference is that your own scan of the board for patterns has already happened for a given point in the game, so you can narrow your field of vision to some extent.

To the extent that video games can be educational, provide hand-eye coordination exercises, or simply provide rewards for being an arbitrary and difficult task, Bejeweled (hopefully) exercises the pattern recognition portions of the brain. My progressively higher scores (both top and typical) are getting higher (but will probably plateau at some point), which may mean I’m seeing these abstract patters a bit better, or maybe cycling through my neurological buffers more quickly. Or at least I’m conning myself into believing this.

Here’s an interesting article about how the brain may only recognize about four things at once, mainly because evolutionarily we didn’t need much more. A classic experiment suggesting this involves asking psych volunteers to concentrate and count how many times these two basketball players would pass the ball the each other. While immersed in this task, many of them simply didn’t see the gorilla-suited woman casually strolling across the scene. There’s evidence to suggest that some people, such as racecar drivers, are able to recognize more objects, or can flush their buffers (so to speak) more quickly and efficiently than the rest of us.

Comments are closed.