Stories tagged play

Here's some incredible video of killer whales coming ashore to hunt sealions. Keep watching, they also like to play with their food. Warning: Real sealions were harmed in the making of this video.


Think this looks weird?: Creatures you create in Spore will put this trilobite to shame.
Think this looks weird?: Creatures you create in Spore will put this trilobite to shame.Courtesy kevinzim
A 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.


NYT story
Spore review

So what did you do over the weekend? I guess we all missed these wild times going on in Botswana, Africa. Check out this video of an elephant pool party. I wonder if the Republican National Convention will get this crazy here in St. Paul in September?


A natural poker face: Chimps prove to be more rational players than humans. Photo by belgianchocolate at

Are chimpanzees smarter than people? Only if you’re a Vulcan who believes that rationality and intelligence are the same thing.

Researchers taught chimps how to play a sharing game. A chip was given a prize, but could only keep it if he offered to share it with the other player, and the other player agreed to take what was offered. If the offer was refused, neither player got anything.

They then taught humans how to play the same game. The researchers found that the chimps always accepted any offer, while the humans often rejected offers that they felt were too low. At the end of the game, the chimps ended up with more prizes than the human players.

According to the article,

The researchers concluded chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. In this way, they protect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair.

An equally valid interpretation would be that the chimps didn’t understand the meaning of “fair” or “unfair.” Another interpretation would be that the chimps figured out this was a stupid game, and accepted every offer just to end it quickly, while the humans tried to figure out how to win.

Perhaps chimps ain’t so dumb after all.

* (With apologies to Abe Simpson)


Gaming trouble?: Can video games become addictive like alcohol or drugs? It's a question doctors and psychiatrists are looking into now as they're seeing more cases of over use of video gaming having a negative impact in some patient's lives. (Photo by cicmai09)
Gaming trouble?: Can video games become addictive like alcohol or drugs? It's a question doctors and psychiatrists are looking into now as they're seeing more cases of over use of video gaming having a negative impact in some patient's lives. (Photo by cicmai09)
I’m dating myself here, but I have to admit it, I don’t get video games.

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.