July 23, 2012 3:42 pm

Show Preview: The Science of Video Games with Jeffrey Ryan and Will Wright

Photo by Jeremy Keith CC BY 2.0 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/332828962

Did you know that the first video game was Space War, a crowd-sourced game created at MIT in 1961?

Video games have come a long way since then, and this 2-part episode of StarTalk Radio takes us on a journey through the history and science of video games, from Pong to Skyrim and beyond. In studio, show host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Eugene Mirman interview Jeffrey Ryan, video game expert and the author of “Super Mario – How Nintendo Conquered America.” The show also features a recorded interview with Will Wright, creator of Sim City, The Sims and Spore.

The podcast is filled with anecdotes about games, like why Space Invaders speeds up as you play it, why the Sims speak in gibberish, and where the creator of Pong stole his idea from. It also has plenty about the science of video games, from Moore’s Law and processing speeds to the impact of better displays on game development.

But what I liked best about this episode were the discussions about what’s really happening when you play a game. Do video games breed violence? What is a 7-year old actually learning when playing a shooter game? What is the partnership between the computer processor and the human imagination that is at the heart of the best video games?

That, and the discussion of verisimilitude and the cartoon laws of physics. As Neil says, “I don’t mind violating biology, but you’re going to have to answer to me if you violate physics.”

If none of that grabs you, there is always Eugene Mirman’s theory on why Happy Days started the conflict between the U.S. and Iran.

The podcast will be available this Sunday evening, 7/29/12.

That’s it for now.

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