When people think of intelligence and defining it, usually IQ tests and IQ scores are the first things they talk about. In this video I’ll try to make two arguments: First, IQ is a flawed model to measure intelligence and second: video games can provide a wider spectrum to measure and test intelligence than your average IQ test. Bear with me and listen and by the end of the video, I hope to convince you.

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I’m your host Elizabeth and behind the computer screen is Haitham, so let’s get ready to explore the question of Video Games versus IQ tests:

The famous Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell was the first to open my eyes to the limitations of IQ, in his book “Outliers”. He teaches that IQ can be a decent measure of intelligence up to a threshold but any IQ score beyond that threshold does not correlate to anything meaningful in life: career, prizes, income, fame, prestige or even creativity. 

Let’s start with having a quick look at how an IQ test is structured. Most of the questions are based on something called Raven’s Progressive Matrices. It requires no language skill or any acquired education. It is a measure of purely abstract logic abilities. A regular Raven’s test consists of forty-eight questions, each one more challenging than the one before it, and IQ is estimated based on how many questions are answered accurately.

Here’s a question, representative of the sort that is asked on the Raven’s test.

Pause the video and think of the answer, I’m sure it won’t take you long.

The correct answer is three, but then, at later stages in the test, you would face harder questions like this here, which most of us won’t be able to answer, or at least not quickly enough.

Lewis Terman, a young professor of psychology at Stanford University is the one who kicked off society’s obsession with IQ and IQ tests, and believe it or not, the narrative that was started by him after the first world war hailing IQ as the sole measure of intelligence is still persisting and dominating academia now. Higher IQ equals higher intelligence and therefore higher education and higher income, so goes the narrative. 

This sounds plausible but there is a big catch: studies, even by Lewis Terman himself, that have monitored people from their childhood until very late stages of life, found that only in people with IQ scores below 120 could one find any form of correlation between IQ and life achievements. Above the threshold of 120 no meaningful correlation could be seen between IQ and performance, none.

And do we need to state the obvious that correlation does not equal causation? Let’s ignore that for a second and continue to see what the IQ proponents are trying to say.

So, if IQ is only a useful measure for those with a score lower than 120, then maybe it should be inverted and classified as a stupidity score instead of an intelligence score, for it can accurately show that people with very low IQs, lower than 70, will face problems in learning and advancing their careers.

The British psychologist Liam Hudson says “It is amply proved that someone with an IQ of 170 is more likely to think well than someone whose IQ is 70. But the relation seems to break down when one is making comparisons between two people both of whom have IQs which are relatively high….A mature scientist with an adult IQ of 130 is as likely to win a Nobel Prize as is one whose IQ is 180.”

Based on what Professor Liam Huson says, Malcolm Gladwell proposes a beautiful analogy:

“What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketball? Not really. You need to be at least six foot or six one to play at that level, and, all things being equal, it’s probably better to be six two than six one, and better to be six three than six two. But past a certain point, height stops mattering so much. A player who is six foot eight is not automatically better than someone two inches shorter. Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was six-six after all.”

So, IQ might matter but only up to a point and after that other factors come into play, other forms of intelligence start to play a bigger role like emotional and interpersonal intelligence, the ability to understand people’s feelings and motives, spatial intelligence, Linguistic intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic, the ability to coordinate your mind with your body and other endless real-world practical forms of intelligence that are not captured in pen and paper IQ tests.

Again, it’s like basketball: once someone is tall enough, then we start to care about speed and court sense, agility, ball-handling skills and shooting touch.

In his Theory of multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor of Cognition, proposes up to nine forms of intelligence, of which only one can be measured by IQ, the logical-mathematical intelligence.

And here is exactly where I think games can be seen as a better alternative to IQ tests.

Take a game like the Resident Evil 2 Remake: It requires the player to use multiple forms of intelligence.

Spatial intelligence is the ability to visualize the world in 3D, and build a map in our brains of our surroundings. In the case of Resident Evil 2 the player is required to visualize the architecture of the Police station with its innumerable rooms, hallways and corridors, and how they spatially interact with each other. The player starts to build a map in his brain of the place and its multiple floors. This is possible because the game makes the player spend the vast majority of the game’s campaign in one building. Clearly, with a click of a button, you can still see a map of the whole place, but only if you can build an architectural 3D model of the place in your mind, will you be able to progress smoothly through the game.The tyrant was haunting me and terrifying me throughout the big building, but because I was able to build a 3D model of the place in my head, escaping from him became more possible. 

Sadly, spatial challenges are often missing from modern games. They simply provide the player with a linear path to follow which requires no spatial intelligence at all from the players. I hope Resident Evil 2 can make players appreciate that form of challenge and push developers to provide similar structures in their own games.

Another interesting aspect in the game that requires a different form of intelligence from the player is facing a character like the tyrant “Mr. X”. The most challenging part about facing him is the lack of a clear script to follow, and unlike IQ tests where you have only one correct answer, here you have an open-ended question that requires the player to use his imagination and creativity to the maximum.

The limited amount of ammo in the game poses another challenge to the player and makes him make some tactical and strategic choices about the number of bullets to spend because it could mean the difference between life and death later in the game.

Similar choices that challenge our intelligence exist in the animal kingdom: an animal that sees a lion sleeping underneath a tree that has food in it, makes many calculations on risk and reward based on a lot of factors: how desperate the animal is for food, the state of the lion, availability of food elsewhere, how long it would take to grab the food and endless other factors that work together all at once. These types of calculations can’t be seen in any IQ test but are essential ones that we make every day. 

Resident Evil 2 made me face choices all the time, should I discard an item that I might need for a more important item? should I visit area x, even if I’m low on ammo? and, if I see a threat, should I use the limited ammo I have to survive now which might put me in trouble later? these are some of the risk-reward calculations that were running through my head constantly, the whole game.

I find these choices to be more challenging at a mental level than any multiple choice IQ test question.

And to prove the point that games cover areas that are totally ignored by IQ tests, look no further than a game like Journey. The game puts you in the charming and beautiful desert to meet unknown players but deprives you of any means to communicate with them except character movements and making a single ping sound. 

I saw tons of players online who developed their own forms of communication – using linguistic intelligence that they maybe never previously knew they possessed. You see players transcend words and language to create a new form of communicating that goes one step beyond any word syntax we use in any daily dialogue. 

At first, the player doesn’t understand the meaning of the weird sounds he or the other player is producing but it takes a form of intelligence to develop it between the two players and to reach a mutual understanding of what these sounds mean. Even something as simple as saying thank you in the game: somehow it can be felt and understood despite the linguistic barriers that the players work hard to overcome. 

The problem with the IQ mania is that it spreads way beyond academic circles. Google and Microsoft, famously, ask job applicants tricky IQ-like questions designed to test their intelligence, including the classic “Why are manhole covers round?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re apparently not smart enough to work at Microsoft.

Many managers in these companies assume that high IQ automatically translates into high creativity but I want to debunk this myth.

Again with the help of the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell, I’ll introduce you to new tools to test if IQ has any correlation with creativity:

Think of the following question:

Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following two items:

1.    a brick

2.    a blanket

This is an illustration of what’s called a “divergence test” (as opposed to a Raven’s test used in IQ questions). Divergence questions are open-ended and expect you to use your imagination and let your mind take in as many possibilities as possible.

The test is not trying to force you to come up with one correct answer, No. It analyses the number of unique answers that you can give.

Gladwell talks in the book about many people with average IQ who provide plenty of imaginative answers to the question. The sky was the limit as to what these average IQ folks were capable of imagining, from using the brick to smash bottles in parties to using it to stabilize a washing machine.

On the other hand, many students with high IQs couldn’t give more answers than using the brick for building and throwing and using the blanket to keep warm. Their imagination was limited to the very basic and functional uses of these tools.

If you run a gaming studio and you hire creative people based on their IQ then good luck, but please, just because someone can tell you why a manhole cover is round it doesn’t mean he or she necessarily house a creative mind which will come up with the next Minecraft, Hearthstone or Journey. 

The divergence test reminds me of the game The Goat simulator. The game is hilarious and it does not ask you to follow one correct path with the goat but to use your imagination to explore all the scenarios you can create with a goat running.

In all honesty, I see the game as an embodiment of the divergence test in the form of a video game. What you can achieve with the goat is only limited by your own imagination, even physics is not limiting you as you smash houses, skateboard or even use a jetpack to fly, it’s the perfect divergence test to test your imagination. 

So, let me conclude everything I’ve said in this video with the following: I don’t actually think there is any tool that can help us to sum up someone’s intelligence in measurable numbers.

IQ, or any form of test, in my opinion, does not provide any empirical evidence to back up its credibility from a scientific point of view. It’s only an easy narrative that persists because these tests are the only tools we think we have at the moment to measure intelligence.

It’s like the tools world bank experts use to measure corruption and good governance in a country, they know that they are flawed tools but they argue that on the other hand, without them they wouldn’t have any tools at all.

Even the other forms of intelligence I mentioned in the video; spatial, linguistic, and emotional intelligence don’t have any form of empirical evidence to back them up as better ways to test intelligence and subsequent performance in life but they expose the limitations of judging someone’s intelligence solely based on an IQ score.

The beauty of video games is that unlike the rigid format of IQ tests that can only test the logical-mathematical intelligence of our brains, games are like a musical melody. Creators have total freedom to design something that can test the player at a logical level like in the Witness, at an emotional level like in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, at a creative level like in the Goat Simulator or any game by Media Molecule and finally at a spatial level as seen in the police department building in Resident Evil 2.

And…in case you want to work for Microsoft or Google and want to know the answer to the question “why are manholes covers round?”. A round manhole cover cannot fall through its circular opening, whereas a square manhole cover could fall in if it were inserted diagonally. Also – extra bonus points if you also state that a round cover doesn’t need to be aligned in any particular way to be placed back over the opening and that the cover can be easily moved by rolling, if need be.

Now, you can consider yourself smart enough to work for Microsoft or Google, but you don’t need to thank me when you answer the question because I don’t think a company should use these meaningless methods to hire people in the first place.

Thanks for your time dear viewers, please don’t forget to subscribe and hit the like button if you’ve enjoyed the video.

I’m your host Elizabeth and behind the Computer screen is Haitham. We wish you all the best and hope to see you soon