How to Explain Your Video Game Addiction to Friends

Gaming meme

“What did you do last weekend?”

For far too long, I was in the habit of saying “nothing,” when I had really spent the weekend playing video games. The truth is, there are certain stereotypes attached to gamers that I always wanted to avoid because they didn’t ring true for me. I don’t neglect other areas of my life to play video games, nor is it the only hobby I enjoy. I’m a social gamer who enjoys making friends and chatting with people in-game. And I absolutely don’t let gaming consume my life, no matter how much I think, talk, or blog about it.

Still, I’ve found it’s really difficult to explain video games to someone who doesn’t play. When you’re in a pinch, it’s nice to have a few prepared explanations that non-gamers can understand. Here are four justifications that I commonly employ.

1) It’s a skill

In order to play most games successfully, you need a special combination of physical dexterity, mental acuity, and patience. Beating a particularly difficult level or game isn’t something you can do on your first try. Like baseball, playing video games is a skill you have to work at. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at timing tricky jumps, managing items, and taking down enemies.

The great thing about gaming is that the skills you hone while playing aren’t confined to this particular genre. Time and again, experts have shown that playing video games actually helps you work on other skills. Here at Civil Cyborg, we’ve talked about how gaming inspires you become more creative and helps improve your academic performance.

Although not everyone is open to hearing it, I’ve found it’s helpful to emphasize the skill-building element to friends who don’t play. It helps them see that video games aren’t just a “mindless” activity (although really, what’s wrong with that?). And by emphasizing the benefits of gaming, you’re more than likely to convince your friends to join in on the fun!

2) It’s what fits into your budget

When the recession hit a few years back, many experts predicted that the gaming sector would be one of the hardest hit. And while it’s true that console games have suffered a downturn, digitally-released titles on platforms like Steam have increased in popularity. Maybe it’s because they tend to be cheaper than console games, but digital games are consciously embraced by gamers on budgets. And while some hard-core gamers don’t consider mobile titles like Candy Crush a true “video game,” there’s no denying they’re easy on the wallet (many are actually free).

Compare the price of a video game to a night out at the bar or a day at the amusement park. These activities, while fun, lack one of the most important aspects of video games: replay value. A few drinks with friends is a one-time thing, but spending 50 bucks on a video game that you’ll play again and again will pay for itself very quickly. Of course, you’ve got to really like a game to make sure you’ll enjoy its full value. But that part is easy: just do your research on review sites before you buy.

The bottom line is, depending on your spending habits, playing video games can actually save you money. And it’s not just me who believes it. Here’s one mom looking into the cost of a Wii U versus other entertainment for her children, ages 10 and 13. And here’s another article about how multiplayer games saved a group of friends some money.

If you’re looking for new ways to save cash on video games, there are plenty of different options out there. You can trade or barter your games, shop yard sales, split the cost with friends, or buy bundled games. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to take advantage of sites like Cheap Ass Gamer and money-saving events like the Steam Summer sale.

3) It’s a form of escapism

In 2012, at least three quarters of Americans over the age of 16 read at least one book. There are many different blog posts on why people read, but one of the most popular is that it’s a form of escapism. Likewise, many of the 58% of Americans who play video games also do it because it allows them to escape, to explore new worlds, to interact with amazing characters, and to chase dreams that wouldn’t be possible in real life.

Although it’s not always acknowledged, gaming serves the same role in many people’s lives as does reading or writing (and sometimes, these three activities are even complementary, like in fan fiction).  In the words of The Book Goddess, “A book takes away our time and space limitations.  We can visit the past or the future, travel to an exotic locale, or imagine what it is to be an athlete or a soldier or a monk.” The next time you need to explain why you game, why not paraphrase these eloquent words? It’s a beautiful way to express one reason why video games are so addictive- they let you visit other worlds.

4) It’s what fits your personality type

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, everyone fits into a specific personality type. I happen to be an INFJ, which means I’m introverted and enjoy quiet, independent, creative hobbies. Besides reading, writing, and doing the occasional painting, I can’t think of any other activity besides gaming that the bill so perfectly. Depending on the type of game I play, different aspects of my personality are explored. The part of me that likes to accomplish goals loves questing in World of Warcraft. My artistic side loves designing homes in The Sims.

If you have a few minutes, take a free personality test and see what the results say about you. While a test isn’t fool-proof, it might give you better insight into why you play and what you play, making it easier to explain to friends.

Justify your gaming addiction….or not

I’m of the opinion that unless you are seriously neglecting your health or social relationships, pursuing video games as a hobby is totally legitimate. It’s up to you whether you want to use one of the justifications above, but if you do, you should never feel ashamed about what you choose to do in your spare time. Happy gaming!


Canonical Launches Ubuntu Edge Crowdfunding Campaign

edge-4-largeOn Monday, a new Indiegogo crowdfunding project launched for the proposed Ubuntu Edge– the (hopefully) soon-to-be superphone-computer hybrid from Canonical Ltd. The company famous for the Ubuntu operating system hopes the new device will bring users an all-in-one computing experience. The device will function as an Android smartphone, for the app base and calling functionality, and a desktop-like computer running Ubuntu when docked with a monitor.

The project is hoping to bring in a paltry $32 million by August 22nd. At the time of writing this article, the campaign has brought in an astounding $6.5 million in a mere 4(ish) days. And it’s not surprising when you see the list of specs on this open and unlocked wonder-in-waiting. The phone boasts, amongst other things, a 128GB SSD which comes stock with both Android and the Ubuntu mobile OS, a super scratch resistant sapphire (yes, sapphire) screen and an HDMI connection for interfacing with a high definition monitor.

As a Linux lover myself, I find the prospect of having an open source computer-phone platform extremely exciting– especially considering the strides Ubuntu has made for Linux in the past decade or so. And while I can’t commit to a new mobile device at the moment, I’d love to see this item on the Canonical Store (or anywhere, really) sometime next year. So if you like open source and are hankering for a fancy, gadgetiest-of-gadgets-type device, contribute to the project! It sounds like a Cyborg’s dream to me.

Image source: Indiegogo


Rockstar Games Rockin’ the Political Spectrum

Rockstar Games logo.

What happens when you combine syncretic politics and video games? Great things according to this article which has a nice breakdown of some of the political nuances hidden (or maybe not so much)  in a couple of titles from Rockstar Games. Both Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire are based loosely on events of the past and offer entertaining gaming experiences laced with political commentary.

The title of the article suggests that some games take aim at liberal or left-leaning politics. But ultimately the author concludes that neither side of the political spectrum stands to gain from their portrayal in these popular titles. With a critical eye in either, the player may be forced to question the motives of characters representing both the left and right.

While corrupt or self-serving leadership on either end of the spectrum isn’t terribly new or surprising this article highlights the opportunity for the audience to participate in some fictional political analysis. It’s a excellent way to draw attention to the potential of games to encourage critical thinking.

It’s a great article and draws some nice conclusions about raising awareness of the political climate in the modern world through gaming. Check it out! I’m CivCyGreg and I approve this message.


Skip Class for Gaming… In a Good Way!

School classroom

Source: Pixabay

A recent post on games that teach got me thinking more about how video games as a medium can encourage and inspire learning. Thinking about my experiences gaming as a kid and how that impacted my life choices, I realized that learning from games has many parallels to the idea of unschooling.

Are schools for fools?

Unschooling is all about learning outside of a classroom. let’s face it, traditional classrooms look pretty boring to most of us. so why not learn somewhere else? Well, the advantage of learning in school is that we’re exposed to a variety of disciplines and, in theory, become knowledgeable, well rounded people as a result. Unschooling takes a different approach. Instead of learning about an array of topics guided by a curriculum document and teacher’s ideas and experiences, unschooling encourages children to learn by following their natural curiosities about the everyday world. It’s sounds a bit willy-nilly, but that’s the point.

Scaffolded disciplinary teaching can eventually lead students to topics like post-modernist theory, quantum mechanics or modern disability theory. But it’s not hard to end up at those places simply by wondering about everyday occurrences. The point is to start with something that captures the student’s imagination– a seed that they nurture through their own learning processes at whatever level is comfortable to them.

What about the games?

So, maybe you’re like, “I thought this was a tech blog.” And you’re right. So let’s get back to the tech. As I mentioned at the beginning, my thoughts about unschooling were triggered by thinking about learning through gaming.

It’s quite simple to argue that many games teach you tacit skills from the logical or managerial challenges you encounter. But the reality is that there are so many opportunities to be inspired by video games– the way we might through TV, movies or literature. And this is where we fit the two together. If gaming and media are powerful tools to engage and inspire, then gaming is a great way to get people to wonder about things. Things like time-travel, ancient cultures, world conflicts and so much more.

So what’s the big deal? If it’s like any other of these media, then why do we care so much? Well I respond to that question by saying that, of these media, gaming has the largest, soggiest stigma attached to it.

We’re medium-biased

While we tend to put books on a pedestal there are tons of trashy, violent, sexist, etc. pieces of literature that are swept under the rug for the sake of encouraging literacy in young people. And don’t get me wrong– I’m all for literacy. But maybe I’m arguing for a shift in our culture. Wouldn’t it be interesting if children were encouraged to break down the new, weekend swallowing piece of console software they spent their hard earned birthday money on.

Maybe we should be asking lots of questions about these games. What do we like about them? What do we dislike? Why are they fun or challenging? Are the mechanics good? How about the story? Is it realistic? What’s so addictive about it? What makes the enemy so satisfying to beat? What makes the hero a hero? Why? And so on.

We would certainly be encouraged to treat a piece of trashy literature the same way. And they give us the opportunity to think critically about our culture. Look at any shelf in the Young Adult section of your nearest book store and ask the same questions about the books your find.

Don’t hate the game

With this kind of thinking, maybe we can help raise the status of video games and encourage people to think of them as they would think of any other piece of fiction. And if we can level the playing field, then our games can be folded into our repertoire of ways that technology can inspire us to learn something new.

So next time you, a friend or family member loads up their favourite techie indulgence, think about how you can get something a little extra out of it. Ask a few questions, pull up wikipedia, challenge yourself to learn learn something new. That way you can be unschooling– even when you’re getting schooled!


Daughter Accidentally Buys Dad A Car Using Smartphone

Smartphone owners know that their devices are a great way to shop online. But for one family in Oregon, internet shopping took on a whole new meaning last week.

Paul Stoute, the father of a 14 month-old baby, was surprised to discover that his daughter had accidentally used his smartphone to purchase a 1962 Austin Healey Sprite. After receiving an email from eBay, he realized his baby had bid on the car using eBay by pressing buttons on his phone.

Impressively, Stoute has agreed to purchase the car after his daughter’s mistake and is planning on fixing it up. Another tech-centric story with a happy ending!

Source: NBC News/ABC News


Millennial Generation Sees Technology in a Positive Light, Study Finds


Source: Pixabay

A new study by a Spanish telecommunications company suggests that millennials see the bright side of technology.

Telefonica surveyed 12,000 respondents between the ages of 18 and 30 in the largest world-wide study of the millennial generation.

According to the results, millennials are very optimistic about the impact of technology on their lives. 87% of those surveyed said that technology “has made language barriers easier to overcome.” Similarly, 83% responded that technology “has made it easier to get a job.”

In addition, the results show that millenials rely more on the internet for news and entertainment than television or printed newspapers.

Due to their faith in technology, it’s really no surprise that millennials are also avid smartphone users. Telefonica labelled them the “smartphone generation” since 76% of millennials around the world own a device.

But does technology consumption really equal success? Telefonica suggests that millennials see it that way, and that their thirst for information is driving more and more people online.

Source: CNBC


Classic Games That Boost Your Creativity

artist palette

Source: Pixabay

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, then you probably played your fair share of games on an old NES system or your family’s Commodore. Thinking back, some of my favourite classic games were ones that allowed me to be creative. And as luck would have it, I recently came across a study which shows that the more kids play video games, the more creative they actually become.

Today, I’m revisiting five classic games that helped expand my imagination and tap into my creativity. I may not have realized it while I was playing, but having a controller in my hands was one of the first steps to becoming an artistically inclined adult.

Sega Game Genie (1990)

Game GenieThere were actually Game Genies for many different systems, and not just the Sega Genesis. But as someone who was a diehard Sega fan in the early 90s, this is the one that stands out in my memory. The Game Genie was this magic cartridge that you plugged directly into your favourite Genesis game. Not all SEGA games were compatible, but there was a huge list of cheats you could do with the Game Genie, like earn extra lives or make your character invincible.

For me, the most memorable “cheat” using the Game Genie was the Debug mode in Sonic 2. There was this nifty “object transformation” ability that allowed you to turn Sonic into game objects. The available objects depended on the level you were playing. For example, if you were playing the classic Casino Night level, then you could turn Sonic into casino bumpers or slot machines.

I remember spending so much time building my own “level-within-a-level” using the Game Genie tool. It was fun to stack a whole bunch of objects on top of each other, then turn back into Sonic and see if I could maneuver around what I’d built. Looking back, I realize it was close to a rudimentary level editor, like the kind you would find in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

The Incredible Machine (1992)

Ah yes. Who doesn’t remember the thrill that came with building your own contraption in The Incredible Machine? This game went through various incarnations, beginning in 1992 with The Incredible Machine for MS-DOS and Macintosh. The game proposed a series of “challenges” that players would solve using objects like levers, bowling balls, and even cats. You could also create your own levels with puzzles for other players to try out. Not only did The Incredible Machine help me think more creatively, it also introduced me to basic concepts in physics, like gravity.

The Sims (2000)

The Sims logoThis game isn’t quite as old as the other four, but can you believe it’s been thirteen years since it was released? (!) The Sims was a ground-breaking game back in 2000 because it featured nearly open-ended simulation play. It redefined the way that players interacted with game environments since the goal of the Sims wasn’t to “win.”

In the end, the Sims was really all about your imagination. You could do whatever you wanted to those poor Sims– make them rich, burn down their houses, encourage them to have affair after affair. While the design options were relatively limited in the first Sims game, later incarnations of the series made nearly every object and avatar customizable by the player.

Kid Pix (1991)

This one is more of a program than a game, but I had to include it because  it was so influential on my early computer-playing days. Kid Pix will be forever synonymous with my middle school library. It was one of the first programs I ever used in the computer lab, and I remember that it was like a simpler version of Paint. It had basic drawing tools, like the Pencil Tool and Paint Bucket, but there was also a Rubber Stamps tool that put little happy faces all over the screen (and what kid doesn’t love that?).

It may not seem like much now, but back in the day, Kid Pix was a great beginner tool for budding artists on the computer. And if you can believe it, Kid Pix is still around in 2013– it’s a lot more complex than I remember (and it’s in 3D!), but it’s nice to see this classic program has been given new life.

Mario Paint (1992)

Mario Paint boxMichelangelo, Picasso, van Gogh……..and Mario? This unexpected off-shoot of the classic Mario series let you to create pictures and customizable stamps.

Mario Paint had a lot of basic drawing tools, but its most memorable feature was the Composer tool. With it, you could create 8-bit songs using little icons on a musical staff. The Composer tool has become insanely popular in recent years and these days you can download it all over the internet. It’s also been used to recreate thousands of popular songs on YouTube.

This is one game that has truly withstood the test of time since it continues to inspire music-lovers all over the world.

Gaming, News

New Report Shows Active Video Games Are More Popular Than Ever

game controller

Source: Pixabay

Just how compatible are video games and exercise?

According to a new report from the Entertainment  Software Association (ESA), they may be more complementary than you think.

The report, called “Active Games Market Analysis,” suggests that the active video games market grew steadily over the last decade. While only 5% of titles released between 2002 and 2007 were active video games, 20% of games released in 2011 focused on fitness.

It seems that more and more players are using video games for exercise. Erik Huey, senior vice president for government affairs at ESA, recently remarked that games can help promote a healthier lifestyle.

“The enthusiasm surrounding active video games is fundamentally transforming how we play and engage in physical activity,” he said in a statement. “Not only is this expanding market segment a promising growth opportunity for our industry, it is motivating families to exercise and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.”

Thanks to a new generation of consoles, we can expect to see many more fitness games on the market soon.

Gadgets, News

High-Tech Pillow Helps Long-Distance Relationships

Bed icon

Source: Pixabay

Here’s another unique tech invention to brighten up your Friday!

A UK shop has manufactured a pillow that helps long-distance couples stay in touch at bedtime. The Pillow Talk pillows communicate via the Internet and can actually track when your partner is sleeping. When one pillow-user puts their head down, the other user’s pillow will glow in response.

Pillow Talk was developed a few years back by Joanna Montgomery, who created the company Little Riot to market the product.  According to recent reports, a Kickstarter campaign for Pillow Talks is in the works, so it should be available for long-distance couples to enjoy soon!

Source: Business Insider

Image Source: Little Riot Facebook

Culture, Gaming

5 Popular Video Games That Teach You Something

Learning roadsign

Source: Pixabay

It’s really great to see so many games out there designed to teach and tell stories. But it’s also really great to appreciate some of the Ed goodness that’s built into games that we may not think of as educational. So many mainstream games get such a bad rap but here is my short list of games that keep it fun and teach at the same time.

1) The Portal Series

Portal 2 logoThese games have been hugely popular and wildly fun. And at the centre of it all is one of my favorite subjects: physics! As with any game from Valve, the Portal series is full of physics fun.

If you haven’t played them (we’ll have to talk later…), you use a gun that lets you strategically place a pair of connected portals on any surface. These portals let you use gravity, principles of acceleration, and projectile motion to solve puzzles and survive the mad genius of the artificial intelligence known as GLaDOUS.

While the math and science isn’t made explicit, the exquisite modelling of real physics from the Source engine makes the theory into a tangible experience for the player. Valve has even been supporting the use of Portal in the physics classroom. These two games are lots of fun and great ways to get students interested in some basic physics.

2) Ace Attorney Series

Ace Attorney logoInterest in the Ace Attorney series has been on the rise of late and for good reason. This series follows a cast of young lawyers through the hardships and rewards of pursuing justice in criminal law and often, dare I say, murder!

Besides the great story lines, Ace Attorney is all about logic. These games play like a series of interactive novels in which you help lawyers build a case and present the right evidence at the right time. While the description doesn’t do them justice (tee hee), these games are packed full of suspense and intrigue as well as an amazing cast of endearing characters. At times you may have to suspend your disbelief, but it’s a great workout for the logical side of your brain.

3) The Civilization Series

Civilization 5 logoThe Civilization series has been around for a long time and has really kept our interest in the 4X genre over the past two decades. The real value of these games is in their fact-meets-fantasy blend of history and gameplay. Whether you play a maniacal conqueror or a peace-loving researcher (or a little of both), your faction’s progress traces the development of civilizations from around the world and far into the future.

Tech trees, cultures and exploration all give these games their true ed potential. The tech tree in particular is one way this series has inspired us (well, at least me) to learn about the history of science and technology. A session of Civ and an open Wikipedia entry is all it can take to inspire us to learn something new.

4) World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft logoThis long-lived MMO staple from Blizzard is all about management skills. Raid parties, guilds, dungeon groups, daily quests and bag spaces are just the beginning when it comes to management skills in WoW. You can even generate in-game revenue by monitoring and investing in (buying, collecting and selling) important commodities on the auction house.

Since this game is all about magic and fantasy, you’re probably not going to learn a ton of facts from it. But if you have any ambition, you can organize a guild, schedule events. and coordinate your group based on their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, this has become a very serious matter in the case of the PVP arena season. And some employers are even recognizing the effort it takes to manage a guild as your extracurricular activity. WoW gets a lot of bad press, but with opportunities like these, maybe we should reconsider.

5) Fire Emblem Series

Fire Emblem coverThese classic tactical RPGs have had a huge following since the original in 1990. The great thing about these games is that they capture all of the story and combat elements of a standard RPG but with an extra layer of strategy on top. I could say so much about the educational value of RPGs like Mother 2 (maybe later) and the tactical element adds even more.

Not only do you strategize in combat sequences but it’s also critical to position your fighters, healers and ranged attackers on the playing field to maximize your group’s potential. Similar to the Ace Attorney series, these games work your brain’s logic centre,s giving you practice with planning, strategizing and using resources wisely. It’s like a game of chess dressed up in our favourite fantasy garb!

That’s all… for now!

Some people may be reading this thinking, “I’ve never learned anything from a video game.” To that I say, “think again!”

There really is so much to gain from the artful and carefully crafted games we’ve been obsessed with since childhood. These are currently my favorite examples but there are so many more.

So what do you think? What mainstream games have challenge you to learn something new? Whether it’s a fact, a skill or just the inspiration to learn more, leave your favorites in the comments below!