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Oct. 10, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU students play games – but it’s OK

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – David Valentine, Slippery Rock University professor of computer science, isn’t upset when students in his class start playing games – in fact, he encourages them. .

           “It is a fun way to learn, and each individual game take less than a second to play,” said Valentine, who teaches SRU’s “Advanced Programming Principles,” among other computer science courses.

           This semester, Valentine is using the popular board game “Reversi,” known best by its trade name “Othello,” to teach his second-level computer programming students about programming concepts.

           Originally a board game dating to the 1800s (and possibly earlier), the game was packaged in 1971 as “Othello” and became a video game in 1980. There is even an online edition.

           “We take the programs the students write for the game, which deal with strategy and territory, and use a double, round-robin tournament that takes about 30 seconds for the computer to complete,” Valentine said. To add to the excitement, he even wore a referee’s striped shirt for the tournament.

           “I’ve used this teaching method before, and it always brings enthusiasm from the students,” he said.

           Computer games are widely agreed to be stimulants for student programming environments. Reversi has proven to be a simple and broadly adaptable game that can fit the computer science curriculum from CS1 up through advanced senior level courses. There is ample research literature attesting to the fact of its usability, and of its success in a student environment. A surprisingly strong game can be built from a simple model of human cognition,” Valentine wrote in a paper on the topic.

           “In our example, students responded enthusiastically to the challenge of a round-robin tournament against their peers. As a tool to reinforce array manipulation in CS2, Reversi was a resounding success,” he said.

           Valentine wrote the “referee” program that monitors actual play, and like his students, wrote a strategy program to enter the competition.

           Reversi,” is a 64-square, board game in which two players have head and tail discs (usually black on one side, white on the other). Each player places two discs of his color on the board’s center squares to begin the game and works in turn to reverse (turn over) any opponents’ discs he “captures” through having his pieces, played one at a time, at each end of any straight or diagonal line of his opponent’s discs.

           The winner is the player with the most pieces on the board showing his color after all possible plays have been completed.

           Marketers of the copyrighted game say it takes “a minute to learn…a lifetime to master.”

           Programs written by students told the computer which moves, and in which order, should be taken.

           “When a player moves, the opponent’s computer program looked at the board and then made the most advantageous move according to the programmer’s strategy,” Valentine said.

           Valentine said his programming students quickly saw the advantage of capturing the corner squares in designing their game-winning strategies. He said the strategies based on territory algorithms in computer programming are much like those used in the media-touted chess matches that pit humans against computers.

           Louis Blackman, a computer science major from Sharon, took top honors in this semester’s playoffs. Andrew Clark, an information systems major from Smethport; Brian Graham, an information systems major from Johnstown; Kraig Keller, a computer science major from Slippery Rock; and Andre Torres, a computer science major form Waterford, followed.

           In addition to grades, winners received prizes, including T-shirts and book bags.

           “There is a Othello World Tournament, according to the Journal of Research in Mathematics, and the finals will be played this year in Newark, N.J.,” Valentine said. Italy, Germany, Japan, France, Singapore, South Korea and the U.S hosted previous tournaments.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.