Getting Back In The Game

One barrier to STEM interest in communities of color is the perception that the fields are  culturally foreign and boring. Becoming aware of the African roots of gamification an increasingly important STEM building block may be one way to help correct that misunderstanding. We are not new to this game!

Games are not only fun and useful in teaching, they are also profoundly important in various fields of study including STEM because of game theory:

Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.

Game theory has come to play an increasingly important role in logic and in computer science. Several logical theories have a basis in game semantics. In addition, computer scientists have used games to model interactive computations. Also, game theory provides a theoretical basis to the field of multi-agent systems.

Separately, game theory has played a role in online algorithms.


Owari, the oldest game in the world belongs to the Mancala family of games found throughout Africa(and now the world). Some believe it is over 5000 years old, nobody disputes that it is at least 1300  years old. It continues to be mined for practical insights. Ron Eglash’s African Fractals book looks at how and why the game was developed and also explores the relationship between Owari and cellular automata. He has not been alone:

It is a strange anomaly that the newest electronic marvel – the Digital Computer – has been programmed to play the oldest counting game. Engineers and mathematicians who have been developing a mechanical brain are fascinated by the manner in which this simple “game of intelligence” enables them to watch the evolution of automatic thinking.

Games Museum

Understanding the specific connections between culture and STEM can not only help engage folk, but may lead to new developments.