Category Archives: Society

Dystopia: What a Game of Civilization II Looks Like After 10 Years

Dystopia: What a Game of Civilization II Looks Like After 10 Years

In The Atlantic, no less. Nice.

When I was a kid, it felt like some expansive History of All Time, except that it was a turn-based computer strategy computer game. Which is why a 10-year game of Civilization II has struck a chord around the Internet today: if you could learn a history of western civ from the game, then its vision of the future feels oddly significant.

 

Here’s what happened. Some human being kept playing the same game for a decade and then posted screenshots to Reddit along with a narrative explanation of where the gameworld stands.

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Video games at the Smithsonian draws massive audience, perhaps future show

Running from March through September, The Art of Video Games exhibition at the museum understands that video games are art and spends its space and time tracing that art’s evolution and influence.

and

“I had many of them come to me and say that they had never considered video games before, but they will never look at them the same way again.”

Somalia video games boom dents al-Shabaab recruitment

Games consoles are all the rage in Mogadishu, keeping boys away from school but also away from the militants

Associated Press report from Mogadishu, very much worth reading. There are so many good bits I don’t want to embed a quote here; I just want to encourage you to click and check it out yourself.

Non-gamers, here’s why you should care about games

Non-gamers, here’s why you should care about games

By Tim Chang, investor with the Mayfield Fund.

“At … the Future of Media conference hosted by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business — the opening question was why gaming is relevant to people who are not gamers. The panelists — folks from IGN, Activision, GaiKai, and Riot Games as well as myself — gave some interesting reasons for why non-gamers should care about the game market: …”

Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s the Wired blog post:
Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s my answer, posted also there as a comment:

Of course you’re right.

AoC rocks, but will be limited by how narrowly focused it is on adult guys. And I don’t think they’ve left themselves enough room to change that over time.

Hardcore gamers don’t want a Wii, and don’t want non-hardcore gamers to exist.

The problem of a Wii-style game is half a game design problem, and half a content problem.

The game design problem means the game has to actually contain within it multiple different ways to play the game, which variously appeal to the range of players. This primarily means the gameplay needs to make room for true casual gamers (note that’s different from “casual players” of current MMOs). Current MMOers call that “dumbing down” – but the point is the game needs to attract and interest and hook true casual gamers. If you think of this demographically, the game might abandon the attempt to hold hardcore MMOers, to better focus on casual gamers. There are way more than 10x as many casual games as hardcore, so this does not have to be a bad business decisions. Note this also has implications for the business model – casual players aren’t going to pay $15 a month as easily as hardcore MMOers do now.

And the content has to be content that appeals to the full range as well – this probably means the content needs to move toward or into the “real” world, because that’s the content humans have the most common interest in. Maybe a known brand could do it. Most everyone here (readers and commentors at the Wired blog) will piffle this, but here’s the answer, if they design it right:

Harry Potter

Video Games Conquer Retirees

I’ve been blogging a lot about how the gaming demographic is changing, and about how to game industry needs to change with it. When the New York Times reports about the same thing, I figure the idea’s going mainstream, and maybe we can expect the mainstream game industry to do something about it. We’ll see. 🙂 Oh, dare I point out this is yet another reference to the Wii and the Wiimote catching on fire? Metaphorically speaking, of course!

So how will this happen best? With companies focused on vertical demographic niches, and building products specifically for them? Or companies developing games carefully designed to appeal across demographics? I can think of examples of both already. However it happens, it’s growth for gaming, growth for the industry, and fun for the new people who are coming into gaming.  Growth that – because it’s so obviously a surprise for most analysts and industry – if likely to shift and increase growth even beyond the projections I’ve blogged about before.

Video Games Conquer Retirees

There’s a lot more in the article – I highly recommend a click and read. But some highlights:

many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal “Computer Cove” to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.

Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.
[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. Pogo.com is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.

“Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing,” said Beatrice Spaine, the Pogo.com marketing director. “Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: “I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And then they can do it. And they actually like it.”

The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)

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“We actually use something called the ‘Mom Test,’ ” said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. “When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that’s a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we’re always looking for new moms to test on.”

Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced “we”) are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.

Why do we bother?

Why do we bother (obsessively, fanatically) with GAMES, that is?

Kelly MacDonald’s article in the new Escapist is a fun bit of self-reflection for we who bother. I’ll leave her good answer for the end of the article, but let me post some highlights to show you why it’s worth a click and a read:

“Games are incredibly complex now, they’re compelling, they’re edifying. We haven’t been spending our time just making more and more versions of Tetris. People are creating real art, these days. Games are as intelligent a leisure pursuit as anything else.

“The living room resounds with familiar, tolerant laughter. My aunt shakes her head, smiling, and leans forward in her chair. “Come on, Kelly,” she says, looking about as mischievous as a middle-aged and middle-class Edinburgh woman can manage, “you can’t possibly say things like that and expect to be taken seriously.”

We, as intelligent people, love games, and it is a love that is often complex and un-frivolous. We are not a clamoring mob, hypnotized by flashing lights and high scores into wasting our lives in front of a screen. We engage with games on a significant level, and that often has a considerable impact on our lives.

All of which begs the question: Why on Earth do we bother?

Whoever heard of a film buff being forced into a corner and made to defend his pastime from accusations of dangerousness or, possibly worse, worthlessness?

Yeah, fun read – click and check it out!

The next game controller–your brain?

A “headset that uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expression… Project Epoc now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player’s mind.”

Yowsa.  This is real!   Strange Days ahead!  (not for the young or the squeamish, btw)

So they’ve just announced Project Epoc this week at GDC – nice splash! – and you can apparently try it out there.  Anyone there have a comment for us?

An image from their site:

And some from GDC:

Here’s the ZDNet article,  The next game controller–your brain?Some highlights:

The Project Epoc system can move objects based on a gamer’s thoughts, reflect facial expressions and respond to the excitement or calm the gamer displays, the company said.

Sensors in the helmet pick up on electric signals in the brain. The system software analyzes the signals emitted by the brain and then wirelessly relays what it detects to a receiver. The receiver is plugged into the USB port of a game console or PC, according to Randy Breen, Emotiv’s chief product officer.

As with handwriting or voice recognition, the machine itself has a learning curve, improving as it better understands what the player is thinking, but there is also a skill level involving visualization on the part of the gamer.

“We have had a number of kids try the equipment, and they often get the best results right away,” Breen said. “Part of that is because the kid doesn’t have the same kind of barriers as an adult does. Lots of kids can fantasize about moving a cup (telekinetically) and believe it.”

Adults, on the other hand, are more definitive in their thinking and thus have a barrier to believing that they can do something out of the ordinary, Breen said.

The helmet shown at the show is only a prototype to demonstrate to game developers what can be done with the technology. While Emotiv is not yet ready to announce any partnerships, Breen did say the product will be coming to market in 2008.

In conjunction with Project Epoc’s debut, the company launched a kit for game developers Wednesday. Emotiv also announced that it is developing its technology for use in other industries, including medicine, security, market research and interactive television.

Here are some highlights from the company’s press release:

Emotiv has created the first brain computer interface technology that can detect and process both human conscious thoughts and non-conscious emotions. The technology, which comprises a headset and a suite of applications, allows computers to differentiate between particular thoughts such as lifting an object or rotating it; detect and mimic a user’s expressions, such as a smile or wink; and respond to emotions such as excitement or calmness.

Emotiv’s founding team includes Allan Snyder FRS (co-founder), an internationally-recognized scientist, inventor of the theory behind optical fibre and a winner of numerous awards, medals and fellowships, including the 2001 Marconi International Prize; Neil Weste (co-founder), a pioneer in chip design and founder of Radiata Communications which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2001 for approximately A$500 million; and Tan Le (co-founder and president) and Nam Do (co-founder and CEO), both award-winning technology entrepreneurs and former founders of SASme, one of the companies responsible for the creation of Australia’s and South East Asia’s SMS application market.

Here’s the company website for Emotiv

Here’s the product info page for Project Epoc

Here’s the For developers page with more details

Photogallery from GDC 

Kaneva = Second Life + MySpace ?

Sound like a good idea?  Oh yeah – but a hard thing to get just right.  And it’s gotta be a hard thing to peel people away from MySpace and Second Life.  Social networks are ‘sticky’ as a function of their size (and MySpace is HUGE); and Second Life has to also be naturally sticky based on a user’s investment of time and effort and (maybe) real money.  Still, better to try it now than when there is more competition trying it.  There will be.

http://www.kaneva.com/ is in closed beta now – but the site encourages you to:

1) Join: Join Kaneva, create your profile

2) Be Active: Explore, make friends, rave and have fun

3) Get invited: Earn invites to get into the Virtual World of Kaneva

Brilliant piece of community- and buzz-generation there, isn’t it?  I just don’t have time to check it out – and I don’t think it’s really my thing anyway.  Any Kaneva users have comments?

Overview links:

Communities (ReggaeTown, The NASCAR, Medieval Town, etc…)

People (123,000 so far, in closed beta)

Entertainment (Videos, photos, music, games)

And features of the world:

Homes and Hangouts: “Create your own 3D home and decorate it with your unique style.  Explore community hangouts 0 theaters, clubs and more.”

Customized 3D avatars: (TheSchwartz: Looks like lots of human customization, but no SL-style ability to make non-human avatars)

In-World Fun: “Watch (and share) your videos in 3D.  Throw a dance party.  Chat with friends and play games.”

Shopping: “Make a fashion statement. Accessorize your home.  Be the first to show of the latest, cool stuff.”

Key takeaway: you can spend real world $$$ to buy Virtual World credits, and buy lots of stuff for yourself and your house.  All kinds of thoughts in my head about the social, emotional, self-image, economic and commercial implications of that – but I’ll hold my tongue for now.  Whatever the implications, they’ll surely make a boatload of money, if they succeed in a large-scale launch with millions of users.

Last overview point from the site:

Elite Developers

Are you an experienced 3D game developer?

Join our Elite Developer Program – over 10,000 game engine downloads, 600 developers, and 30 games in development

Join Now -> 

It’s an interesting model to get professional-quality content generated for the new virtual world.  And to check out potential future employees of Kaneva.  And again, I don’t have time to dig into this myself (any comments, anyone?), but check out these bits from the page:

The Kaneva Game Platform is designed for end-to-end MMO game (MMOG) development for FPS and RPG genres. The Kaneva Game Platform (KGP) features many of the latest graphic rendering capabilities, while providing backend and networking features required for supporting hundreds of thousands of simultaneous players.

Q: What’s the cost?

A: Currently, the KGP is free to download and use for non-commercial purposes.

Q: What kinds of games can I design with KGP? What types of games are not appropriate for KGP?

A: Some games for custom platforms would not be suitable for development on the KGP.  This would include cell-phones, most consoles, etc.  But the KGP is an excellent development platform for all kinds of PC games.

Interesting, eh?  We shall see what we shall see…

Can video games zap childhood – and adult – obesity?

Check this out – it made the Advances in Medicine column in the National Review of Medecine (Canada):

Always looking for a silver bullet, aren’t we? Or a pill, these days. 😀 Still, an interesting article, on more than one level. Some highlights:

The Wii is a radical departure from all other video game consoles on the market, in that it relies on motion capture technology. Rather than pressing buttons and levers on a controller, the user waves the controller around to mimic the movements of a golf club, tennis racquet or other virtual instrument. An infra-red detector tracks the movements and replicates them on the screen.

The basic package comes with five games: tennis, golf, baseball, bowling and boxing. In theory, the user should play the game as if it were the real thing. It’s easy to see how this can lead to injuries in enclosed spaces.

OK, call me warped, but this is funny:

There are now entire websites devoted to documenting Wii injuries, some of which can be quite nasty. A common theme is the overhead tennis serve, performed under an unnoticed light fixture. Another is the flying controller to the bystander’s head, generally blamed on a failure to wear the included safety wrist strap. More upsetting to most users is the flying controller through the TV screen. There are also a surprising number of lower leg and foot injuries.

Oh boy, “the new Jared” – tell me that wasn’t predictable:

A Mayo Clinic study published in January’s issue of the journal Pediatrics suggested that active video games like the Wii could help in the fight against child obesity. … The console has already been enlisted in the war against adult obesity. Mickey DeLorenzo, a computer programmer in Philadelphia, is on his way to becoming “the new Jared of Subway fame,” according to Time Magazine. He has a book deal to write The Wii Workout, a guide to losing weight with 30 minutes’ play a day. His story is featured on the fitness website Traineo.com.

All joking aside – this rocks. This is a great example of how gaming is changing the world:

William Li, a graduate engineering student at the University of Toronto, has devised an active video game console which trains hemiplegic children suffering from cerebral palsy to use their weak arms.

His console, which predates the Wii’s release, is built around the older Sony EyeTool motion capture technology, the same device used by the Mayo Clinic researchers. It can only be played when the user holds down a button under their chair using their strong arm. The movement of the other arm is then captured on screen, and the user performs a range of tasks such as picking fruit and throwing it into a bowl.

Working with kids mostly aged five to nine, Mr Li’s machine has been shown to replicate exactly the kinds of movements that are used in physical therapy to improve strength and fine motor control. It will be presented at the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Conference in Toronto this June.

“We’re also planning to test it using some validated clinical measures of motor control to really quantify any improvements in performance,” he says. Its great strength, he says, is that “the kids don’t see it as work or therapy, but as just another game. They seem to genuinely enjoy playing it.”

The article ends with news I have reported previously: Surgeons who play video games more skilled. This article adds details that the one I blogged about earlier didn’t have (it was mainstream news coverage, after all):

Video simulation has become an essential training tool, especially for pilots. And latterly, video simulation has moved into the field of surgery. February’s issue of the journal Archives of Surgery carries research from the “Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program” at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, which suggests that surgeons who play video games are simply better at their job than those who don’t.

Thirty-three surgeons from Beth Israel participated in this study. Perhaps the most astonishing finding was how many of them played video games already. Fifty-eight percent reported playing at some point, while 30% said their peak use had involved playing almost every day. The typical participant had eight years of video gaming experience, with men more likely to report extensive gaming than women.

The surgeons played three games – Super Monkey Ball 2 for Nintendo Gamecube, Star Wars Racer Revenge for Sony PlayStation 2, and Silent Scope for Microsoft Xbox, then went on to drill and suture porcine bowels and perform a range of other tasks with laparoscopic tools.

Surgeons who never played video games took significantly longer to perform the laparoscopic tests and made significantly more errors than those who played frequently. Skill in each of the video games “was highly correlated with laparoscopic skill and suturing ability,” the researchers found.