Advancing to the Next Level: The Science of Video Games (Part 1)

Photo Credit: Will Wright/Electronic Arts Inc.

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About This Episode

Video games are a ubiquitous component of modern life and pop culture. But is there more to them than entertainment? In Part 1, Neil deGrasse Tyson finds out if video games breed violence and what kids actually learn from shooter games with guests Jeffrey Ryan, author of “Super Mario – How Nintendo Conquered America” and Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Spore. They chat about the evolution of choice and moral dilemma in video games; Moore’s Law of processing speed; and computer game graphics, verisimilitude and the cartoon laws of physics. You’ll also find out why Space Invaders sped up as you played it, what inspired Will Wright to create SimAnt and why co-host Eugene Mirman thinks Happy Days started the U.S./Iran conflict.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Advancing to the Next Level: The Science of Video Games (Part 1).


Samples of video game music here and here.

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  • Cody

    Deer, whomever reads these comments.

    I hate to be the one to present evidence to the contrary of something “THE NEIL” said, but I feel I must.

    You said “no one is a danger when they are playing video games” you sir, are simply wrong.

    I present to you my evidence to back up my claim.

    keep doin what you do Neil! big fan.

    • Jeff

      Cody, we stand corrected. Thanks for the fun video.

  • Brandon

    This was a very interesting concept i had no idea that games were this intricate.

  • Shane

    As a 14 year old video game commentator, I obviously know a ton about video games. Honestly, kids around my age, the majority of video game players, think the Wii was the worst thing ever created and tend to stay atached to our xboxs or playstations. Very interesting though 😀

  • Pr1m3

    27:00 Battlefield Theme Song, very epic.

  • I know I’m late to the same on listening to this, but it was a great discussion even for a long-time gamer like myself. The music choices in transitions were also quite enjoyable. I’m guessing from the sources being Top 10 lists that the one who chose them wasn’t extremely familiar with the subject? If not, I apologize, but I thoroughly enjoyed the selections, from Daft Punk’s Tron to Battlefield 1942.

  • Jacob

    In the game industry, there are 2 camps. 1. You are responsible for the effect your product has on the world, and should be held accountable for it. 2. You are free to express your ideas and world however you want, and the individual interpreting it are responsible for their own reaction to whatever media they’ve absorbed.

    Of the two sides, #2 is by far stronger. Games are rated to tell parents what kind of content is in the game. Games are also just as fake as movies. Parent try to blame everything else when they dont have the time to actually be parents. Its not the game’s fault because you bought your 6 year old “Grand Theft Auto” and he beat up a kid at school. Teach your kids the difference between make believe and reality.

    Not to say that #1 doesnt have any validity. If you constantly show people how cool it is to smoke over and over and over and over, you’ll turn an entire generation into smokers. So there is a level of responsibility on the game developers behalf. HOWEVER, well educated children aren’t lemmings. Give them boundaries and define what is “ok” behavior.

  • I worked at Nintendo for several years, and their customer data base is named BORG. C:

  • Bob

    Eugene needs to keep his mouth shut at times. He keeps flapping his gums whenever Jeff was trying to talk.

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