Multiple Intelligence Theory and Interactive Media Design

From PBS

What comes to mind when you hear the word “intelligence?”

Most people think about grades, report cards, schooling, or some other way that intelligence is generally assessed.

However, only thinking about one’s intelligence in terms of grades and IQ is a rather limiting way to think about intelligence. According to Howard Gardner’s Theory of multiple intelligences challenges this way of thinking of intelligence by describing intelligence as a “network of semi-independent computers.”(Howard Gardner) The different intelligences or “computers” being the different ways the mind goes about understanding things.

The currently defined types of intelligences are:
  • Musical Intelligence
  • Visual-Spatial Intelligence
  • Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence
  • Naturalistic Intelligence
  • Existential Intelligence

This means that information that is represented in multiple ways is more likely to be understood by a broader group of people. Being able to represent information in multiple ways will allow that information to be better understood by more people. The different take on intelligence that the Multiple intelligences theory provides also affects interactive media.

Musical intelligence refers to sensitivity to sounds and music. Many forms of interactive media including games have some sort of audible signifier that the user has done or completed something. In some cases the sound played can be viewed as a reward or as indication that the player has made an action. One example of this in interactive media is from the Legend of Zelda series, when the player finds a hidden location a short tune which is associated with finding something hidden is played. Since the player knows that this sound means that they have found some sort of secret path or chest, the sound itself acts as a sort of reward signifying that the game recognizes something that the player has done, which can give the player feelings of competence or pride. Another great example of this is the Super Mario series where even something as small as picking up a coin cues an audibly pleasing sound. Another instance of this in the Super Mario series is when there isn’t a lot of time left in a level, a short sound plays and then the music speeds up, signifying that the player doesn’t have much time left to complete the level.

Verbal-Linguistic intelligence refers to knowledge of and through language through either reading, writing, or speaking. In games and interactive media words and writing are usually in the forms of instructions, dialog, and descriptions. Being able to use clear and concise language is important so that the player is able to understand exactly what it is that they are supposed to do. If an instruction were to be explained in a way which is confusing to the player they might get frustrated. It creates the wrong type of confusion. In the context of a game the game or characters may sometimes say something positive when the player performs well, positive words act as a reward.

Logical-Mathematical intelligence refers to logical reasoning, critical thinking, and understanding numerics. In many games, numbers are everything. They’re the amount of lives left, coins collected, turns-left, health remaining, and high-score. In a lot of cases numbers represent some of the information which is most vital to the player. In the Super Mario series one of the most important usages of numbers is the time remaining. With a time limit on every stage it’s important that the player is able to tell how much time is left at any point of the game. In turn-based RPG games some of the most important numbers comes in the form of health points. Being able to see these numbers doesn’t just help keep track of the player’s current health but also opens up the opportunity for players to make predictions based off of those numbers and how they change. Then the player can base their decisions off of those predictions.

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence refers to the ability to control one’s motion and handle other objects. As more games and apps make use of motion controls considering what actions can be feasibly done becomes more and more important. Games like Wii Sports do a great job of making use of motion controls. It’s responds well and the actions required for Wii sports are similar to the actions required of the actual sport, making them easy to remember and understand. For example in the Wii Sports bowling game requires the player to make the motion of swinging the wii remote in the same way that one would swing an actual bowling ball.

Visual-Spatial intelligence refers to the ability to visualize spaces in one’s mind, or where things are located relative to one another. Many puzzle games make use of this, specifically games like Quantum Conundrum, Portal, and some of the puzzles in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Quantum Conundrum consists of many puzzles requiring the player to move objects and predict where they will end up when when they become lighter or heavier. In Breath of the Wild there are a couple of game mechanics that require the player to be able to know what direction an object will travel in. One of which being to cut a tree down so that it creates a bridge across a gap. Another where the player can control large metal objects and swing them around so as to knock enemies away. There’s also other puzzles where the player has to freeze an object in time and apply enough pressure to it so that it launches in the proper direction by hitting it. Another way games help with being able to visualize a room or level is by giving a fly over of it, or some sort of map that can be easily recognized as the room.

Interpersonal intelligence refers to one’s social skills and sensitivity to others. In games and other interactive media this generally refers to working together or against other people. Multiplayer games have a lot of interaction from person to person, some fantastic examples of multiplayer games that involve interaction with others Journey, Guild Wars 2, and some physical board games, like monopoly. A lot of games that do have players interacting with one another often have some sort of chat system if the players can’t already talk to each other otherwise. Journey on the other hand does not have any communication other than a ping above their character’s head. Even without any type of text or voice chat it encourages those people to work together. In games like Guild Wars 2 players can choose to communicate with each other via chat or just follow other characters around. Guild Wars 2 has World Bosses and events which generally requires people to work together in order to defeat. The amazing part about this is that games like these are able to push complete strangers together in a way which gets them to work together with one another in order to accomplish a task and still have it be an enjoyable experience.

Intrapersonal Intelligence refers to how well one knows one’s self. Generally story heavy games or games that give players choices. Some choices force players to think on what their personal morals are when making a decision which often makes experiences memorable. Some examples of games that have choices like these are the Mass Effect series, Skyrim, Undertale. Throughout the entire game of Mass Effect the player is given choice after choice of how to go about interacting with the characters in the game, many of these choices where “Paragon” represents empathetic choices while “Renegade” represents Apathetic ones. These choices affect how the player can respond to similar situations later in the game by opening up more dialog options. Undertale is also a game of morals, allowing the player to either defeat all of the inhabitants of underground, save them, or do a combination of both throughout the game which has effects on the story and dialog of the game. In turn, this intrapersonal intelligence is closely related to Existential intelligence.

Naturalistic intelligence refers to one’s understanding of the world and their ability to relate that information to the world around them. Making things in interactive media similar to the way they are in reality makes it easier to understand and commit to memory. One example of this in games is again from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Metal objects conduct electricity, so it makes sense that in game any metal objects that are equipped to the player during a lightning storm will cause the player to be struck by lightning. Another example is how the rain affects the environment in Breath of the Wild. In real life rain makes surfaces slippery and unstable, in Breath of the Wild it becomes much more difficult to climb natural surfaces like cliff faces in the rain. In this same vein there are some pokemon typing relationships that make sense because of how things occur in nature. For example in the Pokemon series, water types are strong against fire types, this makes sense because fire, some fires at least, can be put out by water.

While we all have these intelligences it’s important to note that one can be stronger or weaker in any of these intelligences. This makes it important to present information in a variety of ways so that a broader audience may have greater understanding of the information in a way that appeals to them.