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What Electronic Games can teach us.

by Kendall Powell

When my kids, ages 11 and 8, bang through the back door after school, often the first thing out of their mouths is: “Mom! Can we play Prodigy?”

After a quick mental calculation of how much screen time they’ve already had for the week and how much peace and quiet I need to finish my work, I acquiesce. After all, Prodigy is a role-playing video game that encourages kids to practice math facts. It’s educational.

Right? You May Also Like The Mind

Children already learn by playing games. Just not electronically – yet.

A long-overlooked brain region may be key to complex thought

Though video games are increasingly making their way into classrooms, scientists who study them say the data are lacking on whether they can actually improve learning — and most agree that teachers still outperform games in all but a few circumstances.

But there is growing evidence that some types of video games may improve brain performance on a narrow set of tasks. This is potentially good news for students, as well as for the millions of people who love to play, or at least can’t seem to stop playing (see infographic).

“There is a lot of evidence that people — and not just young people — spend a lot of time playing games on their screens,” says Richard Mayer, an education psychology researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “If we could turn that into something more productive, that would be a worthwhile thing to do.”

In an article in the 2019 Annual Review of Psychology, Mayer set out to evaluate rigorous experiments that tested what people can learn from games. Though he’s not entirely convinced of games’ educational potential, some studies did suggest that games can be effective in teaching a second language, math and science. The hope, he says, is to figure out how to harness any brain-boosting potential for better classroom results.

Your brain on games

Some of the first evidence that gaming may train the brain came from first-person shooter games. That these oft-maligned games might actually have benefits was first stumbled upon by an undergraduate studying psychology at the University of Rochester in New York. C. Shawn Green gave his friends a test of visual attention, and their scores were off the charts. He and his research supervisor, Daphné Bavelier, thought there must have been a bug in his coding of the test. But when Bavelier took the test, she scored in the normal range.

The difference was that Green’s friends had all been devoting more than 10 hours per week to Team Fortress Classic, a first-person shooter version of capture the flag. Green and Bavelier then rigorously retested the idea with people who were new to gaming. They had two groups train on different types of games: One group practiced a first-person shooter action game for one hour per day for 10 days, and the other spent the same amount of time on Tetris, a spatial puzzle game.

The new action gamers were significantly better at focusing on targets of interest in a cluttered, visually noisy field compared with the Tetris players. The team also found that the action gamers, on average, could consistently track five moving objects in a visual field, compared with the three that non-gamers could track.

Bavelier, now a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, says that action gamers are better able to switch their visual attention between distributed attention (scanning a large area for a particular object) and focused attention (extracting specific facts from a video). “This is called attentional control, the ability to flexibly switch attention as time demands,” she says.

Though it’s not yet clear if improving this kind of attention can help kids in the classroom, Bavelier says, she does see the potential for games to help motivate students — adding a bit of “chocolate” to the learning mix.

Green, now a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, admits that the benefits of playing hours upon hours of Call of Duty may be limited in real life. “There are some people who have jobs with a need for enhanced visual attention,” he says, “such as surgeons, law enforcement or the military.” But, he notes, all games come with an opportunity cost. “If video game time displaces homework time, that can affect reading and math skills negatively.”

In other studies, researchers found that gamers who trained on Tetris were better at mentally rotating two-dimensional shapes than those who played a control game. Students who played two hours of All You Can E.T., an educational game designed to enhance the executive function of switching between tasks, improved their focus-shifting skills compared with students who played a word search game. Not surprisingly, the cognitive skills that games can improve are the ones that players end up practicing over and over during the course of play.

But importantly, these skill improvements are very specific to the task at hand: First-person shooter games don’t improve mental rotation of objects, and Tetris doesn’t improve visual attention. And ironically, in assessing studies for his review, Mayer found no convincing evidence that so-called brain-training games for healthy adults such as the Lumosity suite of games succeed at improving memory, attention or spatial cognition.

The next step is to figure out how these findings may translate to the classroom, where video games are already making in-roads. Many students could benefit from an improvement in the ability to flexibly shift their attention when needed. And though first-person shooter games are not really appropriate for grade-school students, Bavelier says researchers are getting better at identifying the core features of video games that drive improved brain agility.

“It could be a game based on a doctor who has to choose the right medicine to save the world. It doesn’t have to be linked to death, violence and zombies,” she says.

“Making a video game that is compelling and effective is difficult,” Green says. Not to mention that games designed purely for entertainment can cost as much as making a blockbuster movie. What might be more useful for classrooms, he says, is to design kid-appropriate games aimed at improving specific brain skills that will help students succeed throughout the school day.

Gaming for gains

At New York University’s Games for Learning Institute, codirector Jan Plass’ team is designing shooter-type, educational video games that boost cognitive skills in executive function without the violence.

In All You Can E.T., players shoot food or drink into aliens’ mouths based on a set of rules that keeps changing, forcing their brains to shift between tasks. And Gwakkamolé is a “Whac-A-Mole”-style game designed to help players improve their inhibitory control by whacking only avocados that aren’t wearing helmets.

“Both of these games make students practice really important executive function skills that some kids didn’t fully develop in early childhood,” Plass says. “Switching tasks and inhibitory control are really important for learning.”

Inhibitory control keeps kids in their seats, helps them focus on a lesson and prevents outbursts that distract the entire class. Practicing this task while playing a fun computer game has an appeal that other approaches do not. “It’s clear that games re-engage kids” who have turned off or tuned out, he says.

But Bavelier questions whether cognitive skills gained from gaming will transfer to other, real-world or classroom situations. “Sure people who play Gwakkamolé get better at inhibition, in that game,” she says. “But it’s a much taller order to show that that skill transfers to better inhibition in general.”

The best classroom video games have certain characteristics, say Mayer and Plass. They focus on one specific cognitive skill and compel players to practice that skill with embedded feedback and responsiveness. The game must be adaptive, meaning the level of challenge increases as the player improves. This is key for classrooms where teachers need one game that will work well for both struggling and advanced students.

Game designers want to hook students on educational games in the same way 270 million of us are driven to play Candy Crusheach day. “Games’ most salient feature is their motivational power,” Mayer says. “We want to harness that.”

To do that, Mayer says, brain scientists, education researchers and game designers must engage more deeply with each other to create compelling games that can sharpen cognitive skills while they entertain. Bavelier points to the power of kids’ brains to do things like memorize hundreds of Pokémon characters and their special powers. Imagine if they applied that obsession to learning all the stars in the night sky, Bavelier says.

Although this research is still evolving, I’m reassured about my own kids’ ever-increasing requests for screen time — especially when they beg to play games designed to help them master math.

“Our dream is exactly this,” Plass says. “That kids will be dying to get to their homework.”

10.1146/knowable-100319-1

Kendall Powell writes about science from her home office in Lafayette, Colorado. Her two school-age gamers like Prodigy and Minecraft best. Follow her @KendallSciWrite

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews. Sign up for the newsletter.

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews

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Nintendo Switch’s New Update Lets You Transfer Game Downloads To SD Cards

Ver. 10.0.0 (Distributed April 13, 2020) of Nintendo Switch’s firmware is now available for download.

The latest update adds the ability for you to transfer any of your downloaded games directly from the systems onboard memory to your SD card, or vice-versa, allowing you to free up some essential storage.

Other changes in the update allow you to change your Avatar on your User’s Profile from a new selection of Animal Crossing – New Horizon icons, and the ability to remap your switch’s buttons. For example swapping ZL > L, possibly making some games such as Mortal Kombat a bit easier.

Nintendo Switch’s new Button Mapping interface.

Custom configurations can be saved as favorites in System Settings > Controllers and Sensors.

Custom configurations are stored on the Nintendo Switch system.

Configurations can be customized for the following controllers: Joy-Con (L), Joy-Con (R), Nintendo Switch Pro Controller.

Button configurations can also be customized on the Nintendo Switch Lite system.

This feature is not available for other controllers.

On each system, up to five favorite custom configurations can be saved for Joy-Con (L), five for Joy-Con (R), five for Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. Five configurations can also be saved as favorites for Nintendo Switch Lite.
Nintendo

A second screen switch?

More interestingly than all of this is that the firmware adds preliminary support for a new hardware model called “nx-abcd”. Within the DRAM profiles in the firmware – 3 out of 5 of these are for “nx-abcd” and it seems this has TWO displays.

Nintendo have commented publically stating they have “no plans” to release a new model of switch this year. But hey, have they ever lied about a release?.. (Yes… Every SINGLE time they’ve lied to us)

Some lesser important features in the update

  • A bookmark feature to ‘News’ – Limited to 300 bookmarks.
  • A new section in User Settings for ‘Play Activity’
  • General system stability improvements.

Performing the update

In most situations your Switch will automatically update. But if you are unsure, or wish to update… You can verify your current menu version and manually start the update by navigating to System Settings and clicking on “System Update”. Your current version will be displayed beneath this.

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Google Launches Free Version of Stadia With a Two Month Pro Trial.

Anyone with a Gmail address can get Stadia free of charge.

Google is launching the free version of its Stadia game streaming service today.

It comes just two months after Google promised a free option was coming soon, and it will mean anyone can get access to 9 games which includes Destiny 2: The Collection, GRID and Thumper, for free.

Anyone with a Gmail address can sign up free, and Google’s even giving a free two month trial of Stadia Pro as part of the launch.

Source – Google

Pre-existing Stadia Pro customers get two months of the service for free, as Google isn’t charging existing subscribers for the next two months.

But while Google Stadia Pro is available to play today on Google Chrome and compatible TVs using Chromecast, it can’t be used through Android mobile devices.

You can still use Google Stadia’s App to access your account.. but when it comes to loading up a game, you’ll be forced to open it up in a Google Chrome window.

This is another step that has been implemented due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has led Google to remove Andorid support from their Pixel devices.

If you’re interested in trying out Stadia for free, you can now sign up over at Google’s Stadia website.

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Best ROM Websites to download Games

Take a step back in time to your childhood and re-play some of those old favourites! Safely!

Some ROM websites do actually have ROMs already in their websites, and some of them contain popup ads through which viruses will infect your system. Some places will also provide you with a file through which you may download the mandatory ROMs and it will work… but, they also contain viruses!

To prevent these situations, you’ll require some Trustworthy sites which will not just give you the perfect ROM for your emulator of choice, but keep your PC away from viruses.

So, if you don’t want to be at risk, check out the below mentioned ROM sites.

Below is the listing of some of the Safe Rom Sites for downloading ROMs:

1. Garoms

If you are looking for ROMs & Emulators for some of the most popular consoles like GBA, SNES, N64, NDS, Atari or Sage, Garoms should be your one-stop destination. It contains one of the most extensive ROM databases online with simple download measures and most importantly no viruses or .exe documents. Head out to Garoms and get your favorite retro games for free.

2. Gamulator

Gamulator is just one of the more recent generation Emulators & ROMs download websites, expanding their games record on a daily basis. At Gamulator you are able to find various ROMs out of each and every console which was available. They take good care of their download security by providing both manager based and immediate download. The arrangement of the website is great and you’d be able to navigate ROM’s by both group and tags.

3. Rom Hustler

Inside this website, it is possible to find a ROM by selecting any console or a keyword. The primary aim of any Safe Rom Websites ought to be to remove from malware or viruses, and this website will meet your requirements efficiently. Here, you’ll get the wanted ROM that you desire! ROM Hustler is getting the very best emulators and ROMs which can be found on the Internet.

The ROMs and emulators available here are mostly based on client votes and ratings. Thus, you don’t need to fret about what you are getting! Additionally, Rom Hustler mobile version can be obtained which will be more efficient.

4. DopeROMs

DopeROMs is known as the interactive site for video games which lets you play copies. You can play these copies of your games on mobile device or pc depending on your conveniences! It has an attractive database of ROMs and lakhs of all ROMs are available to download. On the top of the website, a search box is available from where you can type a key word to search any of the ROMs. This site is a source for analyzing emulation theories for novices.

5. Romania

The name of this site specifies it is full of ROMs. Romania has a large number of games and emulators available to download. A search box is also open on this website by which you may search for your preferred ROM which you would like to download. You’ll get to learn about each ROM with their webpage such as some downloads, games console, etc.. This is the best place for downloading ROMs.

6. CoolROM

CoolROM can also be among the most significant gaming resources with more than thousands of matches and latest emulators. Different screenshots of matches, game-play preview ratings and videos are also offered. It comprises an assortment of ROMs to download with Emulators to having efficient access. If you want to get any ROM from this site, undergo its Header menu and search for your desired ROM.

And if you’re confused in choosing the perfect ROM, examine the sidebar of this website. This will show you a listing of some of the top 25 ROMs from which you can easily choose whichever you want to download. The downloading procedure on this site is straightforward. An immediate download button will appear with each ROM webpage from which you’ll be able to download your ROM.

7. Emuparadise

Emuparadise is your famous website for ROMs. Besides ROMs, it has several options also! It contains a large number of ROMs and games which can be downloaded easily. The games offered in this website can be performed directly. Many places have opportunities to become dirty with malware or viruses, but this site is much from that! You won’t find any of the advertisements pop-ups on this website which is the very best source of infections.

8. Emulator Zone

Emulator zone is a well-known site for emulators as it provides detailed information about ROMs, emulators, updates, download links, ratings of emulators, emulator scams, etc.. It comprises Emulators for MAME, Saga, PlayStation, Xbox, etc.. It’s an excellent site to see if you are searching for games and ROMs.

9. Rom World

Rom World is one of the leading websites with thousands of ROMs out there. This site will also give directions for playing MAME games on iPad along with iPhone. It’s the biggest online platform for downloading free ROMs. It contains ROMs for different operating platforms and gaming devices.

10. RomUlation

This website uses a method to prevent misuse. You have to register for this site to get access to it. After signing in this site, you will be credited with 10000 points.

For installing every megabyte, you will require one spot, like if you want to download 100MB then, you will need 100 points which will be subtracted from your login account. If you are a frequent member of this website, then you’ve got a particular advantage! You’ll receive 500 points daily in every 24 hours up to 50,000 points.

11. Vimm’s Lair

Vimm’s Lair will never let you down. It’s a fantastic site with tens of thousands of games and directories. It contains full-color manual scans, user ratings and reviews. There are no ads and is entirely free from viruses. However, it currently only supports only US releases plus some translations of Japanese games.

It has recently been upgraded on March 16, 2019, with an update for Game Boy, Game Boy color, and Genesis Vaults.

12. The Eye

The Eye is another ROM site free from ads. It’s free and operates through user donations. It’s a directory of 3.1Tb and users may download in bulk. Volume download functions for both Windows and Linux. It contains games from a number of obscure systems and well-known ones as well and the download speeds are fairly fast. You can combine their Discord host for more information.

Source – Articlesfactory.com

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Sony unveils new ‘Haptic’ PS5 Controller

In a shock announcement from Sony on Tuesday – They revealed a new and “improved” controlled that will come with the next-gen PlayStation 5.

Their newly labelled ‘DualSense‘ controller has some shiny new features not found in their current PlayStation DS4 controller.

The first being a ‘Haptic Feedback‘ system (I’m assuming like the new Xbox One controller?)
They stated the system will offer more intricacy and immersion by expanding upon the type of vibrations possible. This seems a page out of Microsofts book by putting the motors under each finger tip for more precise vibrations.

More interestingly Sony stated: “We also incorporated adaptive triggers into the L2 and R2 buttons of DualSense so you can truly feel the tension of your actions, like when drawing a bow to shoot an arrow” – Now, whether this will make gaming more difficult by adding tension and possible vibrations(?) to L2 and R2 is another interesting question.

Sony says that it has renamed its ‘Share’ button which allows online users to share clips of their games with others in the PlayStation community, to the ‘create’ button. They offered very little detail on this, but usually in this context, ‘create’ means you will probably be able to edit your clips for that perfect 360 no-scope montage. Details on this will be revealed closer to launch date.

Image Source – Sony