Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Games (page 2 of 3)

One more note on the Wii

And something more positive than my earlier post on ergonomics and cyberspace: Steven Johnson on Wii tennis:

Having written so much about the complexity of today's games, it's fascinating to see a platform so heavily promoting its comparative simplicity. But I think the success of the Wii is slightly more complicated than that. Wii Sports trades the onscreen complexity of goals and objectives and puzzles for the physical, haptic complexity of bodily movement. Since the days of Pong, games have been simplifying the intricacies of movement into unified codes of button pressing and joystick manipulation…. Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules — as well as the imagery — of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we'd ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

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Ergonomics and the end of cyberspace

This will probably be just a throwaway line in the book, or a paragraph at most, but I've been thinking a bit about RSIs and computer-related injuries as an example of the fractured manner in which we've tried to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

Of course, you can injure yourself carrying firewood, herding sheep, wrangling children, or doing a million other things in the real world. But as I understand it, people get RSIs when of two things happen: either when computers (or more precisely, keyboards, mice, and monitors and their relationships to the body) force users to do something that their body objects to; or when computers remove a physical constraint that prevented users from performing the same action for a long time.

This isn't necessarily a problem caused by badly-designed computers. One of my colleagues sent around this bit (allegedly) from the New England Journal of Medicine:

A healthy 29-year-old medical resident awoke one Sunday morning with intense pain in the right shoulder. He did not recall any recent injuries or trauma and had not participated in any sports or physical exercise recently….

[H]e had bought a new Nintendo Wii (pronounced "wee") video-game system and had spent several hours playing the tennis video game…. In the tennis video game, the player makes the same arm movements as in a real game of tennis. If a player gets too engrossed, he may "play tennis" on the video screen for many hours. Unlike in the real sport, physical strength and endurance are not limiting factors.

The problem with the Wii isn't that it makes you do something really unnatural. But in the real world, few of us can play tennis for four or five hours straight; a Wiimote, in contrast, is light enough to make that possible.

There's also some criticism of the new Cisco open office on ergonomic grounds:

The photo of a Cisco no-cubicle office
in the recent San Jose Mercury News article set off my alarm bells,
however. The no-cubicle environment in the picture is an ergonomic
nightmare. I can’t believe the article didn’t discuss this downside to
the wonders of the new office.

I called Lisa Voge-Levin, an ergonomic consultant who helps
companies design healthy work environments, and asked her to look at
the Cisco photo with me…. [She reported that the armchairs, lack of eye-level monitors, and absence of tables for drinks and accessories] contributes to neck and back injuries
including muscle and tendon strain as well as such serious injuries as
ruptured discs. She also notes that in such an environment, it is hard
to control lighting, glare, or noise; all can lead to headaches.

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The truest things, said in jest

The Onion reports on low sales of Sousaphone Hero:

Despite a catchy 1890s soundtrack and realistic-feeling game play, Sousaphone Hero, the third installment of Activision's massively popular Guitar Hero video game franchise, sold a mere 52 copies in the United States in its opening week, the company reported Monday….

Sousaphone Hero offers two dozen public-domain marches, including 1893's "The Liberty Bell," 1896's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and 1897's "Entry of the Gladiators." The bulky sousaphone-shaped controller coils around the body, and players wear white spat-like foot coverings fitted with sensors that monitor synchronized marching steps. As with the fret buttons on Guitar Hero's guitar peripheral, the sousaphone controller's three valves are color-coded to match on-screen notes the player must hit.

What's notable about this is that haptic game controllers are now familiar enough to be parodied. You can only get the joke if you're familiar with the Wii or Guitar Hero, and therefore can more clearly imagine how much something like Sousaphone Hero would suck.

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Haptics pay off

For Nintendo, anyway:

Nintendo Co. Ltd. zipped past Sony Corp. in market value on Monday and became one of Japan's top 10 issues for the first time, as it elbows the PlayStation maker out of its decade-long dominance of the game industry.

Nintendo has offered a slew of innovative and easy-to-use game software such as "Brain Age" and "Nintendogs" for its hardware in recent years, broadening the game-playing population beyond young males to women and the elderly.

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The pearly gates of level 200 of Tetris

Observed on Flickr:

This slab is claimed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. Superstitious Christians from around the world come here to kiss the stone and rub common-day items against the rock in order to "suck up" some sort of blessing or holiness.

You'll notice the kid is rubbing his Game Boy on the rock.

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VERB Yellowball

On the heels of reading David Weinberger's piece on unique IDs, a friend sent me a link about VERB Yellowball.

VERB YELLOWBALL is a big, bouncy, world-changing idea that was created to spread play to every kid in America.

Here’s the deal. We’re scattering thousands of yellow balls all across the country. It’s up to you to find one, play with it, and most importantly, pass it on.

FIND ONE. Someone is bound to pass one to you. Can’t wait? Check out our “Pass It On” section.

PLAY WITH IT. However you want. Whenever you want. Just play.


PASS IT ON. To a friend, or a kid you don’t even know. Pass it as far as you want. If you’re going on a trip, bring it with you. Remember, this is a revolution. And you are the messenger.

It's a bit like Where's George, in that part of the point of the game– or meta-game?– is to contribute to a record of the object's travels, and the system relies on each object having a unique ID that is linked to information about it. Though in this case, the purpose of the records (or the blogs for each ball) seems to be to encourage more use– to get other users to play with the ball.

Not quite things that blog, but things that are blogged.

Not hard to imagine such objects connected to online games– for example, putting objects that have magical properties in a game environment out in the real world.

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3D models from Second Life

This connects back to something I posted recently on rapid prototyping and education: Gizmodo reports on a new service that lets you create models of objects you create in Second Life:

Those amongst you who spend all your waking time on Second Life: rejoice! Simon Spartalian and Mike Beradino of Recursive Instruments are launching a milling service for SL users on June 1, so you can have actual physical representations of your avatar, builds or favorite SL objects made out of anything from foam to wax to stainless steel, up to 9”x5”x5”.

As 3pointd writes,

Part of the goal of the project is to bridge the virtual and the real “by developing a cultural authority in the virtual that till now has been reserved for the physical,” Spartialian says. The service will allow residents to create physical objects that can take on personal importance or perhaps even come to have financial weight around the edges of SL’s in-world markets.

The Recursive Instruments blog has lots of geeky goodness.

[hat tip to Jason]

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Another meaning of always-on

And not such a good one. From Schneier:

When "Off" Doesn't Mean Off

According to the specs of the new Nintendo Wii (their new game machine), "Wii can communicate with the Internet even when the power is turned off."…[Security and ownership issues aside, w]hat's interesting here is that Nintendo is changing the meaning of the word "off." We are all conditioned to believe that "off" means off, and therefore safe. But in Nintendo's case, "off" really means something like "on standby."…

There's a serious security problem here, made worse by a bad user interface. "Off" should mean off.

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Virtual economies and real ATMs

One of the questions I sometimes get when I give the end of cyberspace talk is, "What about Everquest [or World of Warcraft]? What are millions of people doing now if not spending time in electronic worlds? Doesn't the popularity of multiplayer worlds give cyberspace a new lease on life?"

The simple answer is, no. The more complex answer has two parts.

First, and arguably less interesting, is that I think we thought of cyberspace as something fundamentally different from the online worlds represented by games like Everquest. The cyberspace where information would go to be free had two important qualities: it was separate from the real world; and it was superior to the real world– at least in ways that augured ill for the future of knowledge-production and economic activity in the real world. Online games, in contrast, are separate, but not superior: asking whether the Sims Online world is "better" than real life is like asking if a chessboard is better than reality.

Second, these game worlds are feeding back into real life in ways that first-generation video games– which played an important role in establishing our ideas about cyberspace– never did. Some accomplished players make the case that they should be able to put their online exploits on their resumes: after all, organizing a distributed group of fellow players to go slay a troll (for example) isn't that different from organizing a distributed group of programmers to create software.

Another important overlap between these worlds and the real world– and one that game companies neither anticipated nor supported for quite a while– is economic. For the last couple years, serious players could buy virtual goods with real money– money real enough to make some gamers choose platforms based in part on potential earning power within different worlds, or fight over virtual assets in divorce proceedings.

Recently, We Make Money Not Art reported that a massive multiplayer online game has taken the next step in translating virtual currency into real money:

A card that gamers can use at cash machines around the world to convert virtual dollars into real currency has been launched.

The card is offered by the developers of Project Entropia…. The Entropia economy works by allowing gamers to exchange real currency for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs) and back again into real money. Gamers can earn cash by accumulating PEDs via the acquisition of goods, buildings and land.

The new cash card allows people to access their virtually acquired PEDs and convert them into real world money at any cash machine in the world. The card, issued by MindArk, is associated with the players Entropia Universe account and has all of the features of a real world bank account: players can transfer, withdraw, deposit and even view account balances using the system.

Not something I was ever able to do playing Xevious. The money all went one way.

It'll be interesting to see how well it works.

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Rapid prototyping, bits, atoms, and education

I've been reading up on rapid prototyping technologies, and came across an interesting argument: that the use of 3-D printers, which allow students to make quick physical copies of things they've designed on computers, is making engineering cool, and helping kids develop spatial skills.

Timothy Jump, a teacher at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School, a private college preparatory school in St. Louis, Missouri… [says], "Until 3D printing came along, we were unable to show young people the beauty of the engineering process, taking an initial idea all the way to completion, until late in their educational experience…. 3D printing stimulates a student's mechanical-spatial awareness in ways that textbooks cannot."

Don Jalbert, a CAD/CAM mechanical design instructor at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center in Lewiston, Maine, says 3D printers can help young people realize they have a knack for engineering. "When I taught CAD 10 years ago, the concepts were wholly theoretical because the students could not touch or feel the objects they created. Now with the 3D printer, students can do much more than draw a part. They can evaluate it, refine it, assess how it fits in a larger assembly, and hand it to people. The 3D printer is a great recruiting tool for getting students excited about engineering."

When you think about it, massive multiplayer games are essentially fun-ride versions of CAD and CAAD systems: part of the appeal of Second Life is that you can build all kinds of interesting virtual stuff, from bodies to buildings. It may be that, in the long run, the phenomenon of video games eroding kids' mechanical or spatial skills will be replaced with a pattern in which they translate the design and engineering skills they learn in virtual worlds into the physical world, through the mediation of 3D printing technology. Just a thought.

There's no getting away from atoms.

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