Understanding systems problem solving: what sets competent vs. expert players apart at high-level game play

Yu-Tzu Debbie Liu


Faced with increasingly challenging social and global problems in the 21st century, strong arguments have been made for the importance and implications for learning complex systems ideas and perspectives. However, little research has been done where students are truly exercising systems thinking to solve a problem, or systems problem solving. Most systems learning research and computational tools or games help people think about systems rather than truly immersing students in a systems problem where there's an interplay between individual action and system outcome. This exploratory study looks at how people engage in systems problem solving using a multi-player online battle arena setting in World of Warcraft as a model system of study. More specifically, arena players at various high levels of game play success, or mastery of systems problem solving, are compared to elucidate the differences between increasingly more expert systems problem solvers (competent vs. expert players). Differences in 1) systems concept understanding, 2) thinking patterns, 3) behavior, and 4) collaboration are analyzed. Findings highlight factors that promote successful systems problem solving. The benefits of games and meaningful play to education is exemplified in this study, as it not only provides a means for students to engage and practice systems problem solving, but can be ingeniously used as an educational research tool.