Photo: Pac-Man Graffiti.
How researchers are using computer games to treat pain, aging, ADHD, and other ailments.
Feeling anxious, depressed, fearful, or unable to focus? Is your memory getting fuzzy? Medication might help. Therapy might help. And someday soon—according to neuroscientists, game designers, and drug makers—you might be prescribed a videogame that helps as much as (or more than) either. Here are a few of the innovative companies that are fusing game mechanics with principles of cognitive psychology to create a new paradigm for digital healing.
With the launch of a new version of the venerable role-playing game, D&D is on a quest to dominate your leisure time with digital weapons.
A party of adventurers sneak their way through Cragmaw Cave to surprise a clutch of goblins and their pet wolves.
As the bloody battle wages on, bodies fall one by one. The Dwarven priest and the vicious leader Klarg are all that remain standing. The duel rages on and only one can emerge victorious. A player tosses his dice eagerly to see if he can roll that critical hit and win the day.
This could be a scene from 1970s or the 1990s or today, from the first version of Dungeons and Dragons, to the second edition or third or fourth. But this scene unfolds in the latest D&D release and it comes with one big, modern difference: the players themselves had a hand in shaping the rules. It is all part of D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast’s embrace of the online world and digital lives of those who play this iconic paper-and-pen-based game.
"The rules provide the engine for great adventures and our focus shifts squarely to creating the best stories for players to share and enjoy in their preferred format," says Nathan Stewart, brand director for Dungeons and Dragons.
The latest version, simply titled Dungeons and Dragons, debuted last week with the release of the “Starter Set,” a box that comes with a 32-page primer on the new rules, a 64-page adventure, five characters for players to use on said adventure, and a set of dice to actually play the game with. It is a preview of the new game, before the full rulebooks are released later this year: the Player’s Handbook in August, theMonster Manual in September, and the Dungeon Master’s Guidetwo months later. Getting to this point was, as any avid D&D player might guess, an epic undertaking.
An increasing number of non-gaming firms are using the popular video gaming expo to source creative and technical talent.
A curious site greeted attendees at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3): a slightly charred SpaceX Dragon capsule next to a tent outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, with company staff giving away free “Occupy Mars” T-shirts. What’s a real-life space firm doing at a convention dedicated to simulation?
“We’re recruiting!” explained one of employees.
“We actually hire a lot of our best software engineers out of the gaming industry,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, when Fast Company posed this question during the May 29 Dragon V2 unveiling. “In gaming there’s a lot of smart engineering talent doing really complex things. [Compared to] a lot of the algorithms involved in massive multiplayer online games…a docking sequence [between spacecraft] is actually relatively straightforward. So I’d encourage people in the gaming industry to think about creating the next generation of spacecraft and rockets.”
The biggest gaming conference of the year teases the most incredible interactive art around the corner. Here are our favorites from E3.
Will the AI we talk to be our servant, friend, or god?
Apple’s voice recognizing digital assistant, Siri, has a dry wit. Ask her to talk dirty, and she’ll respond, “Humus. Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel.” Microsoft recently debuted a similar digital assistant of their own. She’s called Cortana, modeled after an AI character in Microsoft’s hit video game series Halo. And much like Siri, she has a personality, though hers leans a bit more toward cockiness. Ask Cortana if she’s better than Siri, and she’ll brag about her video game namesake—pointing out that in 500 years, she’ll save the universe. But the reasons for designing Cortana this way extend past mere novelty.
"Their [vicemag] tone absolutely resonates with the Call of Duty audience. That’s all we asked for—apart from tying it into the premise of the game—just tell the story and let the insanity of the reality speak for itself.”
"Here it is up close - the very first ET cartridge exhumed after 30 years." - @majornelson
From bringing a television production schedule to the video game industry to turning preservation into a noble and profitable business, these are the world’s top 10 most innovative companies in gaming. Read more>
While games like Grand Theft Auto continue to break record high sales, Allison Huynh, CEO of MyDream, an ambitious 3-D multiplayer sandbox game (For PC, Mac, and Linux), hopes to create a first-person shooter game, as she openly refers to it, that doesn’t relying on actually shooting anyone.
Facebook is purchasing Oculus VR, maker of virtual reality gaming headset Oculus Rift, for $2 billion. Oculus has an enthusiastic developer community of engineers working to push the Rift—a piece of technology that isn’t even on the market yet—to its limits and to redefine what an entertainment experience can be. As Zuckerberg notes in his statement, “The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform.” Vibrant external developer communities can’t be purchased directly in cash or in stock options; they can only be bought by acquiring the technology ecosystems to which they are attracted. By acquiring Oculus, Facebook did just that. Developers working on Oculus through platforms like Unity are using it for everything from massively complicated adventure games to fully immersive journeys through Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment.
Code.org is putting the incredible popularity of Flappy Bird to good use. It just released a new initiative to help young people (or whoever, really) learn how to code by building their own customized version of the absurdly simple yet highly addicting game.
"I started making mobile games 14 years ago. A long time before it was a good idea to make mobile games." —Tommy Palm, Games Guru for King Digital, the company behind the massive mobile gaming hit Candy Crush Saga.
Earlier this week, King filed for an IPO. But just as Zynga rode the massive success of a single game—FarmVille, if you’ll recall—all the way to Nasdaq, so now King must contend with the frightening possibility of being a one-hit wonder. Can the king of candy keep its throne?
Gamers and developers are scrambling to fill the void left by Flappy Bird…
In early January, a Reddit user posted an emotional story about waking up on a beach and befriending a fellow lost soldier. But the soldier’s health began to deteriorate. And the author was eventually forced to kill his friend with the other man’s own gun to end his suffering. “His voice gone, I sat there staring at my monitor and began to cry,” the Redditor wrote. “I’ll never see that friend again and I miss him very much.”
"God damn," wrote a commenter. "Alright I’m getting this game."
The writer was playing DayZ, a zombie apocalypse multiplayer PC game that sold its 1-millionth download last week, less than a month after its Dec. 16 release. That release is only the game’s early-access alpha version, which developer Dean Hall will be enhancing and improving for most of the next year before launching it in beta. But even at this stage, the reason for DayZ’s enormous success is becoming clear—the game play leads to a degree of psychological tension and emotional response that players report never before experiencing in a computer game.