Advancing to the Next Level: The Science of Video Games (Part 2)

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About This Episode

In Part 2 of The Science of Video Games, Neil and Will Wright discuss artificial intelligence, the Turing Test, IBM’s Watson and how Spore ascends in scale from a microscopic organism to a multi-player galaxy where everyone can encounter the life forms you create. Jeffrey Ryan explains the secret origin of Lara Croft to co-host Eugene Mirman and how fear is built into the mechanics of survival horror games like Resident Evil. You’ll also learn how the lines between the virtual and real world are blurring, from “Gold Farmers” in China who support online economies in World of Warcraft, to military drone pilots who grew up on video games, to soldiers in Iraq who return from patrol and play Counter-Strike on Xbox in their tents.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Advancing to the Next Level: The Science of Video Games (Part 2).

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  • The Gaia Hypothesis discussion was intriguing, but short. Perhaps you guys could cover that as its own topic/podcast? :)

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the suggestion, Yonas.

  • MrLucas

    Wow, a whole show dedicated to some of the most boring video games ever developed. I don’t care how influential these were, most of them suck and have dated badly.

  • Great podcast, love it!

  • anthony pickett

    I agree with yonas and I think Neil didn’t think about that concept as the universe as a whole bit solely on earth. Maybe Mars and Earth and whatever else comes and goes to balance out the universe. Since it was a gaming podcast I’m sad mass effect wasn’t brought into the conversation. The story of mass effect is that the universe is the one true thing. Life begins and life create artifical life and then they mix. At this point in the cycle it becomes harmful for the universe and kills everything off. So the universe can be pure again and the cycle stars over. So just thinking that since mars nolonger can hold life or whatever and that this ideal of Vowing hypothesis isn’t true isn’t that cut and dry as Neil made it seem. I look up to him but I feel sometimes he donesnt really think outside of the box when he gets excited in these podcast and a lot of times things that could be great conversations get cut off short. Anyway just my 2 cents.

  • anthony pickett

    Sorry ment to say. The Universe kills everything off once it becomes harmful. And Giai hypothesis. Smart phone auto correct you know….

    • Jeff

      Yeah, those “smart phone auto corrects” can be a pain… especially for spelling. As for Mass Effect, Anthony, thanks for sharing that. I think people who don’t play games like that don’t realize that some of them have very involved and integrated back stories. And your two cents are appreciated… it is certainly true that we don’t have enough time to included everything on our episodes. There is frequently plenty of conversation that gets left “on the cutting room floor.”

  • Lewis Anderson

    Just wanted to say thank you so much! Everyone involved for this gift to the scientific curiosity of humanity. Neil you in particular along with Carl Sagan, Prof. Brian Cox, Prof. Steven Hawking and many, many others have unlocked my now never ending curiosity of how this awesome Universe in which we live works. I am now in high school and look to pursue a University degree in Physics in particular astrophysics. Though out my life I endeavour to help spread you message to let’s face it – a very ignorant population. Our future is in space we need to face it now or – as you put it – we are headed right back to the cave. Thank you All!

    • Fold

      I think it came up in the season two episode Appetite For Destruction, casting a critical eye on the theory in light of all the mass extinctions paleontologists observe in the fossil record

  • Brandon L

    Nice podcast, eugene cracks my shit up

    • Jeff

      Thanks for your enthusiastic (and weirdly accurate) comment, Brandon.

  • DT

    I wish that Jeff offered more concrete explanations of video games’ benefits, he seemed a bit grasping at straws with kinda out-there explanations of Mario pipes as wormholes; there are plenty of more relatable and documented benefits of games. For example, games offer advantages in cognitive functioning within areas like spatial ability and visual short-term memory, :
    Other studies demonstrate that games help boost creativity and decision-making:
    Creativity, I think, is easily expressed in the example of Minecraft. Here’s a cool story where a teacher used minecraft to teach his students, allowing them to explore, with spillover benefits in areas like writing (he made his class keep journal logs of their adventures).

    Oh, and if anything, video games have taught me a lot about history. Playing WW2 games like Call of Duty 2 and Hearts of Iron taught me tons about history :).

    • Jeff

      Great points, DT, and thanks for the link to If anybody wants to keep up with the latest developments in the gaming world, it’s the place to be.

  • sølve

    Thanks for a great show yet again mr. tyson an Co.

    But i find it rather sad that the sources for the live show is blocked in Norway.(and the rest of europe for that matter.). it’s no problem getting through, but still.

    Looking forward for more of such entertainment like this.

    • Jeff

      Solve, we may have some good news for you. Starting in November (at least, that’s the scheduled launch date as of now), StarTalk will be on The Nerdist Channel on YouTube. Some of our best upcoming shows are planned for that, as well as some of our existing shows, like “StarTalk Live at Neptune.” And thank you for putting in the extra effort to find us… Keep Looking Up!

  • Shep

    I agree with Lewis Anderson entirely. How Mass Effect was never touched on considering Neil’s background and how it is one if not the most successful sci-fi series of all-time is baffling. Let’s face it, we can’t have a serious discussion about videogames in 2012 without talking about such an epic and groundbreaking series.

    • Jeff

      Shep and Anthony: thank you both for adding the information about Mass Effect. Now anybody who reads the comments (and was previously unfamiliar with Mass Effect) should have their interests stoked. I wanted to address your comment about not discussing “one of the most successful sci-fi sceries of all times.” Clearly Mass Effect is a successful game, both critically and commercially. It has spawned books and (eventually) movies. But this episode was not about “sci-fi” video games, but the science of video games. I think that the video game “universe” is so broad that there are many highly disparate segments. Some people may be avid gamers and never play a game like Mass Effect, nor have any desire to do so. You could spend every waking moment playing Farmville, for instance, or the Halo Series, or Call of Duty, or even Madden Football, which has sold over 85 million copies as of a couple of years ago.

  • Shep

    Oh, I meant Anthony Pickett. My apologies. None the less, our point stands, hah.

  • People say the avid gamer will never play the games thier talking about, I’m 13 and I played the vast majority of the games thier talking about. Even though I’m 13 and lets face it I’d rather play a shooting game rather then any older game but I’ve still played most of the old games.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion, Edward. Glad to know that you “nubes” are still giving some respect to the old time games. IMHO, a good game is a good game. And some of the newer phone-based games are very reminiscent of some of the older, arcade style games.

  • I wonder what sort of new hardware will be needed to connect our brains fully to video games rather than just through a screen.

  • Nicholas

    Neil, I really wish you guys talked more about games like Halo and Mass Effect. I’m still listening so maybe it will come up, but I wish the in-game technology had been discussed more such as the armored suits, the Magnetic Accelerator Cannon, ion drives, etc. and how it may inspire people to actually create these things in the real world.

  • Wade S

    this is not on the RSS feed. Infact many episodes are missing. 🙁

  • Wade S

    this is not on the RSS feed. Infact many episodes are missing. 🙁

  • startalkradio
  • Thudgore Meatwallop

    Good subject matter; horrible execution. This was grating me to the point where I quite literally had to break this… thing… down, and watch it in tiny pieces; it’s only relief was when Mirman questioned Nintendo’s actual influence.

    Get this straight: Nintendo’s a giant; lumbering corporate xenophobe who’s biggest problem is a lack of adaptability. They’ve continued to appear as this unstoppable purveyor of rubbish because the majority of our country’s population are these misinformed little fifteen to nineteen-year-old children who cannot understand even the most basic rudiments of subtlety. Let me put it this way: average people will consume what they’re familiar with because nine times out of ten they’re (A.): too ignorant to think outside the box, or (B.): they’re too arrogant to even consider anything but the name written on the box, and yes, writing a formula for two-dimensional interactivity is neat, but it would hardly be the influence that one would need to “Conquer America” (Although it might be enough to conquer a generation of would-be gamer types who have never seen anything but.).

    Regardless, I view the continuity of video-gaming as an amalgam of generational influence upon future developmental processes; this episode was completely jaded by a lack of hands on knowledge, and bias commentary about video games being “mind-control devices”. (Deet! Deet! Dadeet! Deet! News flash: This just in. Radio used for the broadcast of brainwashing propaganda during the 1940’s! More on this news as it develops.* *Read in a transatlantic accent) Do you see what I’m trying to say? I’m trying to say that “mind control” is a direct result of social cognitive theory; people could say the same about cable, or dish television, about radio, or even books. To some people, the medium of algorithmic computation has become their outlet for artistic expression, just as writing, or drawing has done for yourself, and others, respectively.

    But I digress, if it’s the science of video games, then maybe talk about the science behind video game software, and not the economical science behind which company formulaically produces games that are complete shit.

    You want the science behind games? Don’t start here.

    Start here:
    Then go here:

    You’re welcome.

  • Korrey

    Yes! We need a whole Mass Effect episode! make it so.

  • Estelle Pelland

    Video games really enhance reflexes, awereness of your environment and problem solvability. Counter strike champions are able to catch, mid air, a glass falling from a table out of the blue.

  • Estelle Pelland

    Video games really enhance reflexes, awereness of your environment and problem solvability. Counter strike champions are able to catch, mid air, a glass falling from a table out of the blue.

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