Month: June 2017

Sudoku, mahjong, video games can all help keep your mind young

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games

Last week, I had the privilege of cochairing a session in a conference in Milan with Prof. Michael Alderman, a distinguished professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Professor Alderman is well known for his pioneering studies on the roles of the renin angiotensin and salt system, as well as other hormones that regulate blood pressure (BP) and circulation in people with heart diseases. It is because of his pioneering work that doctors now have a better understanding of why BP increases and how it can be effectively controlled with proper treatment.

He is in his 80s, but looks, walks, thinks and speaks like colleagues much younger than he. He is still very sharp in analyzing the data presented and asking incisive questions to the presenters and also renowned experts in the field of hypertension and heart disease.

I was in awe as I sat beside him onstage, as we both moderated the discussion following each presentation. On the flight back from Milan, I remained starstruck thinking about that rare privilege of having shared the stage with a great scientist and I tried to figure out the secret of his longevity and mental sharpness. I realized it must be his enduring passion and enthusiasm for his work.

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He was abreast of the latest research and asked the presenters questions not because he wanted to test their knowledge but because he was interested in the new ideas they were presenting.

For him, every conference, presentation and even conversation was an opportunity to share what one knows and learn from others, too.
Well appreciated

Back home, we have someone like Professor Alderman. He is Dr. Ramon Abarquez, Jr., professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine. He is probably a few years older than Professor Alderman but still religiously attends conferences of the cardiovascular section at UP and the Philippine General Hospital. His presence and comments remain well appreciated during conventions of the Philippine Heart Association and Philippine College of Physicians.

I always look forward to the scholarly articles he writes for a monthly health magazine (Health and Lifestyle) which I edit. For one article, he reads about 30 references, and it’s amazing how he is able to synthesize them and help our doctor-readers apply the findings and recommendations to clinical practice. He peppers his articles with practical comments and personal insights based on his vast clinical experience.

Years ago, after a lecture I gave, I was asked how I kept myself updated in my field. I replied that I just read thoroughly the articles Dr. Abarquez submits regularly. Of course, I read as much as possible the full text of the studies he cites, but it’s so much easier to understand them after reading his concise summaries and commentaries.

Every senior or elderly person always worries about declining mental function past age 60. It may be true that the memory of seniors is definitely no longer as good as that of people half their age but this is compensated for by their wisdom, experience and better judgment and analytical skills.

To prevent true mental decline, when one can hardly remember anything one has read, seen or experienced in the last 24 hours, these are some of the “secrets” some admirable seniors I know share:

SSEX

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1. Start and maintain a healthy lifestyle as early in life as possible. Dr. Abarquez used the acronym “SSEX” for this—not referring to physical intimacy but to stopping smoking and stress, and exercising regularly, keeping a healthy diet (a lot of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants). Smoking, stress, excessive alcohol, sedentary living and a high-fat diet can cause our brain cells to deteriorate faster.

2. Avoid mental sedentariness. When one retires, it does not mean one also stops using one’s mental faculties. Reading books, watching TV shows, listening to music, browsing the internet, doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku and even playing cards, mahjong or video games can help preserve the functioning of one’s brain cells.

3. Always try to have a good night’s sleep. It’s not true that as one ages, one needs less sleep. A good night’s sleep is still one of the best rejuvenators. As one ages, the secretion of the hormone melatonin also decreases. Melatonin is responsible for regulating one’s sleeping pattern. I’ve been taking a small dose of natural melatonin (Sleepwell Melatonin, 3 mg) after supper for about 20 years now, and I still get a full seven to eight hours of restful sleep every night (except when I have jet lag).

4. Maintain a positive mindset. Physical ageing is partly controlled by the brain. Depressed and negatively oriented people age more and die younger than cheerful people with a positive mindset. With the advances to retard the aging process and rapid mental decline, it may well be true that “70 is the new 50.”

5. Have a hobby. Do the things you would have loved to do before but just didn’t have the time to. When you’re retired or semiretired, you have all the time to do what you enjoy most doing. So long as one continues to enjoy and find meaning in what one does, one wakes up in the morning with the same enthusiasm one had in one’s youth.

After our conference session in Milan, I tried to assist Professor Alderman as he went down the stage but he told me in a caring tone, “Go, run, you have a plane to catch. I can manage on my own.”
As I left the conference hall, I glanced back at him and saw him still having an animated discussion with some of the doctors in the audience. I could hear his hearty laugh and I was certain where it was coming from—a cheerful heart, a cheerful mind and a cheerful disposition.

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Month: June 2017

This is how spending 20 hours a day playing competitive video games gave me a better education than school could

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games


video gamers
Reuters/Kai
Pfaffenbach


I am going to preface what I am about to say with the fact that I
know I’m not the majority. I know this isn’t for the masses, and
honestly it’s not supposed to be.

I grew up under the assumption that if you wanted to be great at
anything, you had to pour your entire heart and soul into it. So
I never understood why, then, I was ever discouraged for chasing
the 1% of people who “make it” in any given industry.

When I was a teenager, I was one of
the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North
America
.

Every single person in my life insisted that the hours I was
spending in front of the computer were an immeasurable waste of
time.

Today, I look back and see those hours as being the single most
profitable investment I ever made in myself. Here’s why:

Digital entrepreneurship is gaming.

You know those stories you hear about programmers sitting in
their dorm rooms creating the next billion-dollar tech company?
That’s gaming.

You know those entrepreneurs that grind for 18 hours a day, by
themselves (or with a small team) in a lonely apartment, sharing
leftover pizza and three-hour old coffee? That’s gaming.

A few months ago, I started my first real company, a ghostwriting
and influence agency called Digital Press for CEOs and
serial entrepreneurs who want to build their personal brands.

I kid you not, I feel like a teenager all over again. I have
spent more time in my desk chair (the same one I sat in competing
in the World of Warcraft a decade ago, actually) working than I
have anything else. 16 hour days are a regular thing.

Entrepreneurship is gaming. It has taken me a long time to
realize that, but that’s exactly what it is.

And do you know what? Gaming prepared me well.

I look around at a lot of my peers, especially those who say they
want to be successful entrepreneurs, and they don’t have the
stomach for it. They can’t sit in a room by themselves and grind
for 16 hours straight. They can’t do that day after day after
day, week after week after week, if that’s what it takes. And a
lot of them don’t know the nuances of the Internet — things that
are so familiar to me, I feel like it’s a second language in
which I am fluent.

As a teenager, that’s how I spent my time, was online gaming. I
would regularly pull 20 hour shifts, grinding out goals in the
name of an armor upgrade. I would go entire weekends on six hours
of sleep. I remember how many nights I went to sleep just as the
sun was coming up, pouring into my bedroom through the window.

School didn’t teach me any of that.

School taught me about parallelograms — something I saw no use
for back then, and haven’t found a use for since. School taught
me about cells and rocks and things that I remembered for a test
and have since absolutely no recollection. School taught me how
to get by. It didn’t teach me how to think for myself.

Gaming did.

I realize not everyone will agree. I share this for two reasons:

Parents

If you are a parent and your kid is really into video games, I
urge you to put some effort into understanding what they like
about them, why it holds their interest, and maybe even what they
hope to get out of gaming.

As a teenager, I was doing a lot int he gaming world. Much more
than anyone ever even bothered to ask me about. I had one of the
first Internet famous gaming blogs with over 10,000 daily
readers. My first writing gig was a ghostwriting job for a gaming
website where I wrote walkthrough guides for them. They paid me
exponentially more per article than what I was making scooping
ice cream at the local Coldstone Creamery.

But nobody asked me. And when I tried to explain, nobody wanted
to take the time to understand.

Today, eSports is a billion dollar industry. Owners of NFL and
NBA teams are buying up eSports teams because they see where it’s
headed.

I can say I helped pioneer the industry a decade ago. And today,
I see those skills as some of my most valuable assets.

Gamers

And gamers, if your passion is in gaming, I urge you to think
hard about the skills you are acquiring and how you can ladder
them up to even bigger opportunities.

Looking back, I am glad I moved on from gaming. I loved it, and I
will always hold those memories close to my heart, but the world
is a video game. And I promise you, there is no more fun game
than the game of life.

Use gaming as a means to hone your skills.

But then see how much farther you can take it — outside the
computer screen.

Read the original article on Inc.. Copyright 2017. Follow Inc. on Twitter.

Month: June 2017

Nintendo fans freaking out to the ‘Metroid’ E3 reveal is why I love video games

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games

Nintendo’s big E3 surprise was one that fans have been waiting to hear about for years: Metroid Prime 4 is coming.

Most of us watched it at home, but a group of dedicated fans gathered in Nintendo’s New York City retail store for a public showing. Just watch their amazingly positive response to the Metroid announcement.

This kind of pure, unadulterated joy is something that I think most fans of video games are familiar with in one form or another. You won’t see anything new about the game here; just a bunch of happy fans expressing genuine excitement in a way that a chat-assisted internet broadcast rarely manages to capture.

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Month: June 2017

Video Games: Mass Creative Media Alongside Technological Risks

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games


The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This article was originally posted on the Joy Machine blog; maybe check it out too! <3

There’s been a, seemingly, influx of articles and columns circulating throughout the games industry and, specifically, the indie game development community about “great games” that completely flopped commercially. This has led to a lot of different conversations, as such a thing is wont to do, but the thing that stood out to me is that most of the discourse wasn’t: “well, yeah. What were they expecting?”

A major turning point whenever I give a talk to younger developers (or college students) is — universally — when I say this: “absolutely do not go straight into indie game development out of school. Please. I beg all of you. Get a job, then ideally stay there for a while and finish at least one project, get another job, finish that project, and then if you still want to go indie, then do it.” There are, always, a barrage of follow-up questions that follow. I remain unrelenting in my discouragement of going indie immediately. It takes a solid ten minutes after that bit before any of my jokes ever start landing again.

Film Flops

I was watching the behind-the-scenes of The Force Awakens the other day (which is something I’ve never done, but it started immediately after the credits ended and i was too lazy to move initially and then it had stuck its claws in me). The one thing tentpole films, indie films, and, uh, whatever the categorization is of movies in between all have in common is this: they’re creative risks. Even if a studio focus-tests the hell out of a movie, goes through numerous punch-up rounds, and so on: it can still fail. And it can fail bad:

The Great Wall

Budget: $150,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $21,508,490 (USA) (17 February 2017)

Sure, it eventually was up to $45 million a month later, but imagine if that was your studio: you’d be looking at getting up to 14% of your total budget within the first week. And, while it’ll go on to make more eventually, it doesn’t bode well a vast majority of the time. And while, like all movies these days, there was surely a fair amount of CG employed in the film, so you might use that to balk at where this section arrives, but take into account that the CG employed in movies is (generally; Pixar stands out as the rare exception here) authored using well-established and pre-existing methods. Sure, may be a new software package, but it’s not a software package that’s being developed alongside the CG artists’ work.

Technical Flops

Earlier this year — while I was at GDC, incidentally (this is relevant) — Amazon’s S3 service completely died. As it turns out: a whole lot of things depend on S3 being a completely stable, reliable service. Well, it wasn’t on February 28th, 2017. I was at an Amazon Lumberyard sponsored session that day and, for some reason, they were unable to demo half of what their talk was about.

But, it was bound to happen eventually (which makes things like this a little terrifying). That’s the drum beat to which the constant progression of technology marches to. Any technological change is going to come at some cost, whether it be man hours, QA time, user/focus-testing, soft launches, etc. But all of that is intended to ensure that the day a new service/application launches that it is prepared for (what the company hopes is) the barrage of launch-day users that strain every system they have prepared.

Which, fyi, that strategy generally has failed major games for ages (the World of Warcraft launch was particularly brutal). Point is: technology is risky; not for a creative or artistic reason, it’s just a whole lot of complex things all having to work perfectly and constantly to avoid failure.

Video Games Industry: “Hey, Let’s See if it Blends!”

So, naturally, what do we do as game developers? HELL, LET’S COMBINE THOSE TWO THINGS. So, we end up with video games being a mix of the creative/unpredictable risk of mass media products which are developed alongside work-in-progress engines/code bases. That’s why game developers get paid the big bucks in the tech world — wait, I’ve just been informed that this is almost universally a false claim.

More to the point: there’s a reason that game developers tend to burn out young (I remember a Game Developer Magazine survey which categorized “veterans” as anyone with 5+ years of experience), projects fail, studios close, and so on. And these are studios with money, backing, and, theoretically, a capable team that end up folding pre-release or shortly after release. There are just so many different ways a project can go horribly awry during development, much less the unpredictability of its launch and post-launch success (luckily, post-launch success can make up for poor launch-day performance now, if planned for and handled properly).

Hopefully that all set an appropriately dark and hopeless tone, because now there’s the bright side: indie games typically do not take on the same degree of technical risk that AAA games do. There are exceptions (No Man’s Sky being a rare example of a “small”(-ish) team succeeding with a game that was risky in terms of design and technology. And, no, don’t bring that gamer hate on this, No Man’s Sky was wonderful; it wasn’t what it was hyped-up to be, but that’s why I don’t follow games’ press tours.

More often, indie game developers take on a far greater creative risk with their games, while relying on as sound a technological backend/engine as they can (and thus we have proven the reason for Unity’s popularity). This makes the development process less of a risk, and it’s a great mitigation of a potential disastrous launch. At the same time, that approach still leaves you with the other half of the problem: whether the game will be commercially successful.

The story that incited some of the “indie game development is too risky to ever pursue” discourse is the story of Introversion’s follow-up to Prison ArchitectScanner SombreScanner Sombre being a game that I didn’t find out about until I read the Gamasutra article on the matter. And, here’s the first of a few points I’d like to highlight: I still get a weekly (maybe monthly?) update about Prison Architect. And yet, despite all that, I still had no idea that Introversion was working on, much less launching, a brand new game. I still know nothing about the game (this will change after I finish this article, but I wanted to keep its existence a mystery while writing it). But I do know that Introversion has been an independent developer for a long time and was coming off what seems to have been a very successful game; there could be a dozen of different reasons that Scanner Sombre flopped — I don’t know them — but it does seem an uncharacteristic slip-up for a developer that has constantly surprised with clever, successful titles.

The other story that was adding fuel to this fire is a post-mortem onTumbleseed. I haven’t played it personally, probably because I’m a horrible person, but it’s widely-regarded as “a good game”. This led to one of the oddest angry responses that I’ve seen in ages which I’m summing up as thus: “if a great game can’t even succeed, what hope is there left for indie games?” We are not, nor have ever been to my knowledge, living in a utopia where great works of art/entertainment are guaranteed commercial success. It doesn’t matter if it’s a video game, a film, a book, a painting, a sculpture, or whatever: quality never guarantees commercial success. It absolutely helps, but it’s not the sole variable in this elaborate formula.

So… Uh. Is there a Crossroad’s Demon for Ensuring Success?

A game’s success can never be guaranteed, but that doesn’t mean as much as it may sound like. At every moment of your project’s development, be evaluating what’s working, what’s not working, and what you can be doing better whether it’s workflow, marketing, remembering to eat three meals a day (I fail here), planning for tomorrow or the week after or the month after, etc. Always, always, always plan for the worst while simultaneously underpromising on what can be delivered (if you’re in a position to do so; I don’t recommend this as a way to woo funding sources). And, sigh, here are… maxims. I swear they’re one of the only ones I think are universally applicable:

  • Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
  • Underpromise, overdeliver.

My studio director in days yore, the wonderful and divine Dylan Jobe, drilled the latter maxim into my head so much that it sits right alongside “hi” and “thanks” and “how are you?”. But it’s things like that which gave me the confidence to strike off into independent game development at the beginning of this year. I spent nine years working in a myriad of types of studio environments. I think my job at LightBox Interactive (working on Starhawk) was my favorite by a light-year or so, but that doesn’t negate all of the wonderful things I’ve learned to do (and, more accurately: not to do) elsewhere.

And that brings us to what I think is a nice point to end on: as you go through your career at other studios, you’re going to learn so so so much from your teammates. So much. To reference LightBox again: our Technical Director was a lovely man by the name of Bruce Woodard. Whenever I ran into a bug or a technical issue, I’d generally IM him about it, and he’d invite me over at some point to show me if he had reproduced it properly. And then he did something wonderful: when he had fixed the issue, he’d invite me over again and give me a thorough explanation of what was causing the problem. My job at LightBox was as Sr. Game Designer; I wasn’t anywhere near the game or engine codebase ever. There was no practical reason that I had to know why the bug existed. But he explained it anyway. And to this day, I think those moments were what rekindled my interest in graphics programming years later, as along the way he actually helped me understand some of the fundamental concepts that I had always gotten wrong when I was starting out.

How to Be Successful

I have no idea. None whatsoever.

But I do know this: there are never a dearth of sources from which you can learn about every aspect of the game industry. I was lucky enough throughout my career thus far to, at some point or another, interact with pretty much every aspect of a project’s development cycle (including creating, producing, and delivering a full game pitch to an external studio — which was stupid fun). I’ve learned a lot of great things along the way, but the best things I’ve learned are exactly what not to do. Do not assume you’re going to be successful, do not assume because your game is good it will reach a wide audience, do not assume that you know some super special secret that no one else does.

At the end of the day, it’s just work. I tweeted this last night, but it actually remains one of the rarest of moments where I look no what I said and actually don’t dislike myself for it:

That’s not to say you should be spinning your wheels on a thing you’re stuck on; it’s more: if you want to make sure you’re doing everything possible to ensure your project’s success, there’s never a good time to think you’re all set. Just keep going. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimmiiiiiing.

That would have been a great ending to this article, but it’s not the one I want to end on. If you do end up going through a fair amount of time in studios, are around people smarter than you thought people could be, and those people go out of their way to help you and mentor you, there is only one thing that you can do to repay them (aside from saying “thank you”, obviously): Do the same thing for others you encounter in the future.

That should go without saying, but it doesn’t seem to at times. If you got to where you are and are a mega-success without the help of anyone, then you’re a unicorn and why am I talking to a horse? Never forget how you got to where you are and the people that facilitated your journey to where you are. Because, eventually, it’s your turn. And since I had two LightBox examples in this article, here was our design team (and below that is just the image for this article’s header which is by no means casting shade) ps I’m the guy in the center:

LightBox Interative — Christmas-ish Party, January 2012

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Month: June 2017

Video games can rewire your brain: study

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games

The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016.

Playing video games can shape our brains and behaviour, boosting attention as well as causing neural changes similar to those seen in addictive disorders, say scientists. Video games are becoming more common and are increasingly enjoyed by adults. The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016.

Changing technology also means that more people are exposed to video games. Many committed gamers play on desktop computers or consoles, but a new breed of casual gamers has emerged, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments throughout the day, like their morning commute.

Researchers looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

“Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” said Marc Palaus, from Open University of Catalonia in Spain.

Scientists wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date concerning how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. They collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and behavior.

The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform, and even their structure. For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention.

The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks. There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program.

Video games can also be addictive, and this kind of addiction is called “Internet gaming disorder.”

Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses.

These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.

“We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” said Palaus.

As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how.

“It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” said Palaus.

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Month: June 2017

Tone-deaf cop addresses real-life shooting while playing video games

Posted on June 27, 2017  in Video Games

This week, a Seattle police officer chose to talk about the death of a pregnant woman at the hands of his fellow officers … while livestreaming a video game.

On June 18th, officers came to Charleena Lyles‘ home to investigate a burglary she reported. Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was then killed in a scuffle with the officers. Some of the details of the case are unclear, but it’s known for sure three of her children were home at the time. It’s a deeply upsetting case that has raised troubling questions about the officers’ use of force.

One officer recapped the whole story while livestreaming Destiny on Twitch. And it was just as uncomfortable and inappropriate as it sounds.

Some of the members of the department play Destiny via a channel called “FuzzFeed206” (206 is the Seattle area code). Usually, they complete raids while answering questions about various crime-related issues. In this week’s stream, Sergeant Sean “Vesperbat” Whitcomb chose to address the Lyles case, though he admitted it would “be on the heavier side.”

Apparently his idea of gravitas in addressing the killing of a pregnant woman is to talk about it while not in active combat. He wanders the Tower through the entire livestream, talking about the events that led up to Lyles’ death. And it’s not as though it was unsanctioned or condemned by the higher-ups: the department tweeted a now-deleted YouTube recording of the stream.

Whitcomb was swiftly raked over the coals on social media. The video has since been deleted, and though the channel can still be viewed, Whitcomb told GeekWire he and his squadmates will no longer be using it.

“I wouldn’t have done the stream knowing that it caused a lot of hurt,” said Whitcomb. He has been the SPD’s director of public affairs for eight years, by the way.

It’s interesting to see the police department using Twitch to foster better community relations, but ultimately, it’s not the place to address such a tragic topic. Especially not while playing a first-person shooter.

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