The new gamer generation: Not who you think

The New York Times today writes about the new gamer generation in Retirees Discover Video Games. Yep, retirees. They are making up a larger and larger part of the market for “casual” games, and game developers and distributors are taking notice. The Nintendo Wii, with its simple controls for many games, is making a splash of its own.

My favorite part of the article is that told by semi-retired businessman Dick Norwood:

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

Regular readers here know my fondness for the Wii, and I’m not the only one. My wife, my brothers, even my mom love to play games on the Wii, especially Wii Sports. The appeal of the Wii, especially in a sports game, is captured by Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You, in 5 Thoughts on the Nintendo Wii:

What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I’ve half-perfected that’s unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain what I’m doing with my killer topspin shot.

In a traditional game, I’d know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that’s ultimately what’s so amazing about the device.

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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Update:  For every silver lining, there is apparently a cloud, including for the Nintendo Wii.  The physical exertion that makes the Wii so fun seems to be leading to an increased risk of physical injuries, as described in Virtual video games cause real injuries.  Just like all games, people need to learn to play in moderation.

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Apple may credit iTunes album purchases

In my last post, I recommended buying just a couple of Liquid Tension Experiment songs from the iTunes store if you didn’t think you were up for the whole album. I must admit, I’ve never really considered how iTunes handles buying a whole album if you’ve already bought an individual song or two, but thanks to MacNN | Apple may credit iTunes album purchases, I know now. Interesting, since I guess I always thought this is how it should work anyway.

A good, though small, example of a company re-inventing how it does things.  Worth a quick read if you buy from iTunes.

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The serendipity of knowledge

Album Cover - Liquid Tension ExperimentA month or so ago in a discussion about the value of blogs and wikis as collaboration tools, Dave Snowden stated, “Knowledge discovery is serendipitous, not planned.” Last weekend, I had a ‘no-tech’ version of this experience at Mozingo Music in Ellisville, where I had taken my son to pick up some new sticks and mallets (he is a percussionist).

While Ian was looking through the different options, my eyes were drawn to the shelf of instructional DVDs. One in particular caught my eye, Mike Portnoy‘s Liquid Drum Theater. Though I didn’t buy the DVD, the info on the jacket made me want to learn more about Portnoy’s music with various groups. The group that stuck in my mind was Liquid Tension Experiment (with such a cool name, how could it not).

I’m always on the prowl for good new music, preferably good instrumental rock, and what I found with Liquid Tension Experiment on their two, aptly titled, CDs – Liquid Tension Experiment and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 – didn’t disappoint me. After listening to a couple of 30 second excerpts on the iTunes store, these two albums very quickly made their way into my collection of songs. (I’d have provided links to the albums in the iTunes store, but I’m not sure you can actually do that in a browser.)

To say that these guys are good would be a gross understatement, so I was anxious to see what else they had put out. Turns out that Liquid Tension Experiment was kind of a ‘side-gig’ for Portnoy and others, so they only released the two CDs mentioned above. As an ‘experiment,’ I would say that they definitely succeeded.

If you don’t want to buy both full albums but want to get a good sample of what they’ve got to offer, I’d recommend Paradigm Shift or Freedom of Speech from the first album, and Acid Rain or Biaxident from the second. You’ll be glad you did.

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I wonder why…

…in this day and age the number 13 is still so deliberately avoided (at least in the U.S.) in hotels and airplanes? Hotels typically don’t have a 13th Floor, yet they do have room numbers with 13 in it (such as 213, 1213, 1413: just no 1313). I have never seen an airplane with a 13th row, but airport terminals do have a Gate 13.

What would happen if all of a sudden hotels and planes had 13th floors and 13th rows? Would they go unsold? If those were the only rooms or seats available, would people choose another hotel / flight?

Hmmmm.

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Words to live by

Sell out crowds. Overflow rooms. Young fans looking for autographs after a ‘performance.’ Not things usually associated with a lecturer talking about prime numbers. But such was the case recently for 2006 Field’s Medal winner Terence Tao. The article Scientist at Work – Terence Tao – Journeys to the Distant Fields of Prime in the New York Times gives a profile of this young, talented mathematician, described as a ‘rock star’ and the ‘Mozart of math.’

Though Tao is obviously quite gifted (an understatement), the description of his childhood, and how his parents handled his talent, is very telling as well. [emphasis is mine]

[Terry’s father] Billy Tao knew the trajectories of child prodigies like Jay Luo, who graduated with a mathematics degree from Boise State University in 1982 at the age of 12, but who has since vanished from the world of mathematics.

“I initially thought Terry would be just like one of them, to graduate as early as possible,” he said. But after talking to experts on education for gifted children, he changed his mind.

His parents decided not to push him into college full time, so he split his time between high school and Flinders University, the local university in Adelaide. He finally enrolled as a full-time college student at Flinders when he was 14, two years after he would have graduated had his parents pushed him only according to his academic abilities.

The Taos had different challenges in raising their other two sons, although all three excelled in math. Trevor, two years younger than Terry, is autistic with top-level chess skills and the musical savant gift to play back on the piano a musical piece — even one played by an entire orchestra — after hearing it just once. He completed a Ph.D. in mathematics and now works for the Defense Science and Technology Organization in Australia.

The youngest, Nigel, told his father that he was “not another Terry,” and his parents let him learn at a less accelerated pace. Nigel, with degrees in economics, math and computer science, now works as a computer engineer for Google Australia.

But what really caught my eye was Billy Tao’s summary of how they approached their kids’ learning:

All along, we tend to emphasize the joy of learning. The fun is doing something, not winning something.

Words to live by, indeed.

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