Gaming: Time For a *Really* First-Person Shooter
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
New technologies bring forth new art forms, and those forms create new ways to understand life. The theater gave everyone his or her say (even the man the Queen's grandfather overthrew, even the guy who had tried to conquer the audience's city). So it gave its audience the new experience of hearing a tale from several perspectives. The novel gave its readers the interior life of the individual in all its glory and squalor. Film gave artists control over the feel and logic of dreams. The art form of our time is, obviously, the videogame. But what is its unique contribution? What does this form allow creators to do, that can't be done in others?
I have a guess. I think games are uniquely suited to represent life's contingency: How, as Philip Pullman puts it, "when you choose one way out of many, all the other ways you don't take are snuffed out like candles, as if they'd never existed," and each choice is a branch from which others may spring, while other possibilities are lost. Our minds are biased to think in terms of fate, and destiny, and oversight from supernatural powers. But videogames show us, constantly, the spectacle of randomness interacting with choices (some made in a hopeful fog, some made without awareness at all). You weren't destined to get to the next level tonight, you were just a microsecond faster on the right button. You aren't cursed, you just had a couple of battles go improbably, but not impossibly, badly. You aren't on a karmic path, you're just bouncing along on branching paths that make their successors more or less probable with every choice you make.
Novels and movies try to represent this fact of life, of course, but they can't embody it. However much they speak of branching paths and chance, their form is governed by their creators. (True, there are hypertext novels of which this isn't true, but I think those works might be more akin to games than to printed books.)
So I'd love to see a videogame take this capacity somewhere that films and books can't go.
Suppose, for example, you could play a game in which the protagonist was you—your actual self, as described to the game in a long questionnaire you filled out before playing. The game, then, could identify forks in your life-path and let you see what would have happened in the alternate realities that would have arisen had you done something different. How little, or how much, would it take to make a downtown drag queen into a Polo-shirted suburban dad? What might you be now if you'd fled that car accident instead of manning up? It is one thing to idly speculate and daydream. But hasn't computing power reached a point where a game could actually show you the many alternate versions that might've sprung from all those paths not taken?
It's not a rhetorical question. I really don't know. Readers, do you?
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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