If Offices Were Zoos, The Humane Society Would Protest

Question: In what surprising new ways will video games be used in the future?

Nicole Lazzaro:  Absolutely.  Well I think what our mission right now is you know with launching Tilt and the consulting that we do with our clients companies is really unlocking you know human potential and improving quality of life through play and it’s not…  I mean there isn’t a game in the world that doesn’t teach and there is no play style even that doesn’t teach, so there is this very human, not a human need, but I mean it’s just a human facility.  This play experience is part of what we do.  So we’re actually going to see, work and play get a lot closer together, so we’re going to be playing more at work.  We’re actually going to be…  you know we’re actually going to have work that feels more like play, so I predict that not only do we have…  We’re going to have more robust you know simulations, training simulation games.  You know so if I hand you a nuclear reactor you know you can play with it.  You can train to… You can do management training that way.  You can do all kinds of social…  In fact, World of Warcraft, if you’re guild leader, you know, you’re learning a lot about management… managing other people, so I think we’re going to see a lot of stuff happening in games coming through.  And I think I’m really hopeful for…  This is why I’m sharing a lot of my research, is that what we’re really hopeful for is to see huge changes in the American workplace and you know actually all around the world because when I go in and you know I’m trained to read emotion on people’s faces what I see and I see that and I see their work styles and their you know what tasks they can actually do and you know I’m in awe and in horror of what I see when I go into the average office space because the work there is so…  I mean it’s so ill-suited to the task at hand.  You know, if this were a zoo or a kindergarten, you know, Child Protective Services or, you know, the Humane Society would be there… down there, you know, to close it down in about an hour because the work environment, the physical space, the types of tasks, the emotions around those tasks are totally ill-suited to accomplishing the task at hand and so by really understanding play and what motivates people and games are self motivating systems, so self motivating systems we’re going to see that self motivation permeate throughout everything from word processing to, you know, the way that your copier operates.

We’re going to see not only that we’re going to see these game mechanics you know embedded in the software that we use, you know in the physical devices that we touch like, you know, a copy machine, but we’ll also see it in this business structure as well, so we’re going to see the way that give feedback, the way that we give out tasks, the way that we manage folks is actually going to be a lot more responsive to game style kind of thinking because in a game what do you have to have?  Well Sid Meyer says it’s got to be interesting choices, right, so you got to have that, but then you also…  You know I think that what we do in games is really we simplify the world.  You know we suspend some consequences.  You know that gives us a little free action and then we then enhance the feedback and enhancing the feedback and enhancing the reward, that easy fun and that serious fun really can then motivate folks, motivate people to explore and extend themselves and when they accomplish something hard that they couldn’t do before then that hard fun comes in and you feel much more well-rounded as a person and much more…  you know, you feel much more… that sense of accomplishment and, you know, really usefulness, you know, in society at large.

And actually just riffing off of that a bit, I think that also the other way that games are changing the way we are as a society is that games have multivariant input, so especially simulation games, so you’ve got multiple things coming in and you have the ability to make a lot of changes.  So in a sense simulation games are really… have the opportunity to change the world, to really educated us as global citizens because what are simulation games are they are a… they have multivariant inputs and multi variant outputs, so when I play Sim City I play a city manager and I, you know, make decisions, you know, and I can make decisions that related to Godzilla or I can make decisions to earthquake or fire or I can, you know, build it up, but when you’re done with Sim City you actually know a little bit more about that.  You know more of that world and what we really need right now are people who can understand multivariant systems to fight things like global warming, AIDS, all of these problems.  We’ve pretty much dealt with a lot of the low-hanging fruit here, and so you know I think that games play a really serious role, a really important role in elevating up our thinking to that next level of play, and I think if we can do that the world will definitely be a better place.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.