Last night on the CBC, I heard a story about a new computer game developed to simulate a global outbreak of a flu virus... much like our current H1N1 situation.
Naturally I checked it out at work today. It's kind of fun. So far nothing has exploded, which is a big minus for me with videogames, but, on the other hand, tons of people can die, which is generally a big selling point for games. And there's spooky windy/bubbly/throat-singing sounds always playing in the background, which adds a creepy atmosphere of immediacy. (I'm assuming that flu viruses make spooky windy/bubbly/throat-singing sounds.) CBC, you haven't let me down yet.
Basically, you just scroll around a slick map of the world, spending your limited amount of money on things like research, drugs, and prevention programs. I've already stopped a level one virus, but I'm currently watching the world become overrun with a level 3 virus. And I'm out of money, so hopefully everyone is feeling lucky.
This angsty dude, Alex Jones, points out that the game is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, a giant pharmaceutical company, and it's just a gross piece of propaganda to get kids into anti-viral drugs and stuff. And, I suppose, that's technically true, depending on your definition of propaganda. But whatevs. Flu pandemics are real, and anti-virals and vaccines probably do save a lot of lives. And this is an interesting way to learn about the non-pharmaceutical in combating viral outbreaks.
Check it out. But wear your propaganda glasses, or whatever.
"Riots in Canada"? I'm sorry, Canada, you haven't even had any infections in my game. What are you rioting over? Stop rioting.
Courtesy JoitsIt shouldn’t be surprising that the growing Wii phenomenon is making an impact at medical clinics. And I guess it only makes sense – a video game that encourages people to get up off the couch and move around actively is going to lead people into injuries.
Despite imbedded reminders in the game that participants should take an occasional break, doctors are reporting seeing an uptick in the number of “repetitive stress injuries” incurred from doing the same motions over and over. They’re also seeing some ankle sprains, twisted knees and other traumatic injuries caused by Wii activities.
Seems to me that just like with “real” physical activities, people would be better off doing some pre-Wii stretching, pacing themselves and shuffling up the Wii activities they play.
Do you have a Wii injury story? Share it here with other Buzz readers. What do you think can be done to reduce the health risks of playing Wii?
A couple years ago, we posted an item about psychology/psychiatry professionals debating if people can get addicted to video games. It generated a lot of discussion here on the Buzz. Here's a new study – done through a written survey – that says 8.5 percent of American teens exhibit behavior patterns that would reflect an addiction to video games. What do you think? Read this report and share your opinions here....if you don't need to go back to playing that video game.
That model isn’t exactly in production yet, though—it’s a conceptual design of what the next PSP system could be, based on existing technology (or technology that will be practical within a few years). Its designer, Tai Chiem, is exploring how the technology could be implemented in multiple portable electronic devices, including gaming systems.
For those of you unable or unwilling to click on the link above, the new PSP concept is based on a large, flexible screen that can roll up around the cylindrical controller (which looks to be about the same size and shape as a cigar case). Controls would be on the face of the cylinder, and stereo speakers would occupy each end. The screen, when unrolled, would be made stiff by a small electrical charge.
The screen is based on organic light emitting diode technology. The difference from normal LED tech is that the light emitting layers of OLEDs are based on organic compounds. A variety of compounds, which emit different colored light when subjected to electrical current, are deposited on a polymer surface in a similar way to ink being deposited on paper during the printing process. Although there is some concern over the degradation of the light emitting compounds over time, because OLEDs emit light themselves, they don’t need a backlight like LCD screens, and they require less power to run. OLED screens are already being manufactured by Sony, and have been used in demonstrations of flexible display screens.
Because the controls of this future PSP don’t exactly look comfortable to handle, I’m assuming that the impetus of the design was primarily ease of smuggling. You wouldn’t want to try to sneak a whole crate of these anywhere, but just one of them, I’m guessing, would fit pretty well in any one of a number of common smuggling compartments. The location of the speakers on each end could lend itself to some hilarious sound effects too. The potential for a stray electric charge to erect the screen, however, is disturbing. It could make things tremendously uncomfortable for the smuggler, and put an end to any sneakiness previously underway.
What do y’all think? Cool technology for portable gaming? Or is this going in the wrong direction?
Whats the best kind?
Courtesy kevinzimA new computer simulation game based on the theory of evolution is being released today by Electronic Arts, the same company that created the vastly popular SimCity and The Sims. I lost interest in playing video games years ago, but my kids were big fans of the Sims series.
The new game, called Spore, begins with a meteorite delivering the building blocks of life into a primordial planetary ocean. As your life-form eats and grows it acquires DNA points and traits that help it survive. Single-cell organism gradually transform into more complex multi-cellular ones that eventually develop brains, defense mechanisms, and alliances to survive long enough to further evolve - eventually - into advanced civilizations and societies.
When a new generation appears, you’re given access to the game’s Editor, and the ability to add mutations to your creature’s offspring. According to Will Wright the game’s creator the Editor is “roughly a mixture of Mr. Potato Head, an Erector Set, and clay”. Parts can be given more than just one function, so, for example, a tail can be used both as a grasper and stinging weapon if that’s what you want.
Along the way your creature can be designated a predator or prey, whichever strategy proves more useful for it to flourish. It can co-operate with other species, or you can make it competitive and just have it run roughshod over everyone else, and see how that works out for you.
Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago who studies how evolutionary modifications produce different body plans, was shown the game recently and delighted by it.
“Playing the game you can’t help but feel amazed how, from a few simple rules and instructions, you can get a complex functioning world with bodies, behaviors and whole ecosystems,” he said.
Luckily, (if you haven't already done so on the earlier Spore link) you can also see a great demonstration of the game yourself just by clicking below. The rather extensive demo is given by Will Wright himself.
In the end, I think the idea is to become civilized enough to develop into a society of space colonizers (I suppose so the process can start again).
Some scientists like Shubin love the game, while others aren’t so impressed, complaining it simplifies a very complicated process. But so what? Small mutations over millions of years would take…well, millions of years to play out properly in a more realistic simulation. Do they really want my kids playing computers games more than they already are? I don’t think so.
At least by presenting some of evolution’s grand ideas, Spore just might inspire some gangly, pimple-faced kid to let go of the controller long enough to investigate further the intricacies of the science and natural selection. How could that be bad? But, I have to tell you, after watching the above video demonstration, I’m very eager to try out the game myself.
Courtesy Pathfinder LindenWell, maybe not “cooler,” but new research suggests that using online interfaces (like Second Life, or mmorpgs) actually improves one’s real-life social skills. And we all know that being cool pretty much goes hand in hand with excellent social skills.
I mean it. Ask them.
Anyway, contrary to popular belief, these videogames may be making people better at interacting with other people. The charisma stats in darkened, very nearly empty computer rooms around the planet are skyrocketing. Part of the reasoning here is that being thousands of miles apart and disguised by virtual characters makes it easier for people to approach and interact with each other.
Sort of like how if you were drunk and wearing a teenage mutant ninja turtles mask, you might say things you would have never otherwise considered to people you’ve never even met before. Right?
The research also points out, however, that to interact in an acceptable way in a virtual world, you would have to have at least rudimentary real-world interaction skills. It helps, though, if you’ve got wicked hit points.
The PhD student behind the research said that, over the course of the study, she immersed herself in Second Life.
Also, I’ll soon be publishing my research on how drunk people dressed up as ninja turtles have exceptional personal hygiene and 150+ IQs.
Anyway, today (or technically yesterday - it's late) is Nintendo's 118th birthday! On September 23, 1889, Japanese businessman Fusajiro Yamauchi formed the Nintendo Koppia company to produce the Hanafuda card game. It wouldn't be until July of 1983, just a few days after I myself was born, that the company released the Famicom, aka the Family Computer system, aka the Nintendo Entertainment System, home some of our generation's greatest heroes: the Mario brothers, galactic bounty hunter Samus, elfin androgene Link, and the Bionic Commando himself.
Thanks so much, Nintendo, and happy birfday.
If only real life were more like computer games. We could go around casting spells (zap!) and slaying monsters, and then search through their bodies for gold and potions and stuff. Kicking over trashcans and searching them for valuables isn’t nearly as fun, even if you are dressed as a night elf (although that helps a little). I can’t seem to level up, no matter how many hours I put into life, and as often as refer to myself as Pussywillow Bloodtalon, my mother still insists on calling me JGordon.
Yeah, real life could stand to be a little more like videogames. It seems ironic, then, that epidemiologists have recently been turning to computer games to see how they could be like real life.
These epidemiologists (scientists who study the factors effecting health and illness of populations) have proposed using “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” like World of Warcraft, to simulate the spread of serious diseases through large populations, and to see what might be done to effectively control them. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, World of Warcraft, and other online role-playing games, allow thousands of players to interact with each other in the same game world. There are monsters and swords and things too.)
The idea surfaced back in 2005, when the developers of World of Warcraft created a new area for the game. In this area, players’ characters could catch a disease called “Corrupted Blood.” Corrupted Blood would rapidly drain a character’s health, and the idea was that weaker characters would be “killed” by the disease, while stronger, more experienced characters could keep themselves alive until the condition passed. However, the disease was programmed so that it could be passed from character to character if they got too close, or from a player-controlled character to a non-player controlled character, or to a pet, who could then pass it on again to other players (just like influenza or the plague, which can be spread by animals). Before long, the Corrupted Blood disease left its original area, and moved into large cities in the game, carried there by players and their pets. The cities were rendered uninhabitable (as far as one can inhabit a virtual city), and players began avoiding any area with large groups of other players, for fear of their character becoming infected. The game developers attempted to set up quarantine areas to halt the spread of the plague, but ultimately had to shut down the game servers and reboot them with the disease changed so that it was unable to spread between players.
Epidemiologists, who have largely had to rely on mathematical models to predict the spread and “behavior” of serious diseases, are fascinated to see how people actually react to a plague like this (even if it was just a virtual plague for virtual people). The Corrupted Blood scenario, and others like it, could help show how people might actually react to a quarantine, and to what extent they would be willing to cooperate when scared.
Skeptics have argued that people would probably treat a real epidemic much more seriously than one confined to a game. Others argue that, with the amount of time and effort players put into their gaming alter-egos, they become emotionally invested in protecting their characters, and would therefore still be useful for modeling behavior during a real outbreak.
As I suggested earlier, I think the scientists have it completely backwards. Their effort would be better spent developing more effective life potions and healing spells. And, as horrifying as the prospect of catching Corrupted Blood may be, the epidemiologists are ignoring the very real threat of dragons and rogue level 70 players. Far be it from me to pass judgment, though. I’m about done here anyway – I’ll be starting a quest to the bathroom in a moment. It promises to be a tooth whitening adventure.
The kids of my friends and even some of the younger people I work with rave about the latest games and the fun they have with them, but it blows right by me. I can’t see why people camp out overnight to get the latest playing systems or the hottest new games.
Now, people in the medial/psychiatric fields are taking a harder look at video games. Can excessive playing be an addiction?
Meeting over the weekend, the American Medical Association passed on making a judgment call on the situation. It’s asking the American Psychiatric Association to study the issue over the next several years to see where video gaming fits on the addiction horizon.
To tell you the truth, I haven’t got any opinion on this. I guess you could say this is a drink I’ve never drunk, a drug I’ve never tried. But some of the information I’ve read makes me see that video gaming can be a serious problem for some people.
Some counselors report increased amounts of patients coming to them with tales of excessive video gaming at the expense of other daily life activities: a mother playing games for hours ignores her baby’s cry, a university student flunking out because of too much gaming, a spouse’s vast game-playing time leading to divorce.
With some addictions, the medicine and science are obvious. Consuming alcohol or drugs alters the body’s chemistry with a short-term good feeling, but a long-term addiction. Other currently accepted addictions like gambling or sexual activity have been shown produce a chemical reaction inside the “users” body that can work like ingested chemicals.
So what about video gaming? As one person asked out in an article I saw on the issue, is compulsive playing of the games addictive to someone or is that simply a sign of another problem – boredom, depression, loneliness – that has a deeper root in the person.
The verdict reached by the medical and psychiatric groups will have a big bearing. If video gaming is ruled to be an addiction like alcoholism, drug use or gambling, insurance companies could be made liable to cover treatment programs for those diagnosed with the addiction. Work places would be made to make provisions to get people dealing with the addiction help.
So what do you think? Could excessive gaming be an addiction? Is it something less than that? Is it no big deal? Share your thoughts with other readers hear at Science Buzz.