A Nice Story About Video Games and Learning

So I have a nephew who is just over 2 years old. It seems like every time I see him he's a little different because he's constantly learning so much so quickly. Plus that learning is usually a culmination of several different things all coming together to form one whole. So it's rare for me to see him not only learn something but to see him learn it from a direct interaction with a specific thing.

Well yesterday I finally got to see such learning take place. My sister has added a few game to her i-phone so that my nephew can play with them. What he likes to do is take the phone to someone and play two games with that person; Angry Birds Space and Temple Run. Yesterday was my turn to play those games with him.

So he ran over to me phone in hand, jumped on to the couch next to me, plopped the phone in my hands, and urged me to play. The first game we played was Angry Birds. He pulled up a level that he knew how to beat and showed me. Then he got a level he couldn't beat and couldn't figure what to do. All of the level prior to this new level required him to shot the bird left to right and didn't rely too much on gravity from other planets. This new level required him to shot right to left and use a planet's gravitational pull to whip the bird around the planet to hit the pigs. His problem was he kept shooting left to right. So I showed him the concept of shooting right to left and using gravity (by doing it myself with one of our birds). Once he saw me do it he figured it out and then, in subsequent levels, applied shooting in all direction and gravity to hit the pigs. It was amazing. One simple example was all he needed to grasp a pretty complex concept for such a young kid.

He then pulled up Temple Run. Basically he knew how to jump but he didn't know how to slide or turn left and right. He also didn't have the timing down at all. He just kept jumping over and over. So I showed how to jump, slide, and turn left and right and associated those actions with words ('up', 'down', 'left', 'right'). I then gave him the phone back and, as he played, said the words with the right timing so that he could react appropriately. He got it right away. He had to act pretty fast too and he did it really well. Then I stopped speaking and he kept progressing through the game with his newly attuned timing.

What was the coolest thing about this experience was seeing how much fun he had while he was learning at the same time. Plus we got to spend time together which we both liked. I've been playing games for a long time. I was playing the Colecovision when I was not that much older then my nephew. So I know that they have had an effect on how I think and perceive the world. But this was the first time that that correlation was made so explicitly clear to me. It was also great to see how much fun these games can be. I think that as I've gotten older I've taken games more and more seriously. Which is fine and I'm happy that the medium has grown to such a degree that I can do so. But it's kind of nice to remember that games can also be a ton of fun too. I guess I just needed a 2 year old to remind me of these things.

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Insane in the Brain

I just read about the most bizarre brain condition. So in your brain there are pockets filled with cerebral spinal fluid and nothing else. There are no neurons (brain cells) there. These areas aren't huge because your brain needs as much room as possible to hold the estimated 100 billion neurons that live there. So this picture seems insane to me:

The right pair of images is a normal brain. The left pair is of a brain that has extra large ventricles. The black spaces represents the ventricles for each brain. The top images are of the top of the brain and the bottom are of the side. Remember, there are no brain cells there. Further, there are important parts of the brain that are just not in the right place if they are there at all. At the very bottom of the brain there is the brain stem and behind the brain stem is the cerebellum. It's easiest to see that in the bottom-left image. The brain stem is the black rod that is coming up from the bottom of the picture and the cerebellum is behind it. For one, that cerebellum is a lot smaller then the brain to the right. But what's insane is that above the brain stem and cerebellum there's supposed to be the thalamus and hypothalamus among other important areas of the brain. If I remember right, one of the main jobs of the thalamus is to transmit information from the other parts of the brain to the frontal cortex. In the left pair I have no idea where the thalamus is. For that matter, the frontal cortex is really, really small. The whole brain is really small. Apparently 10%-15% the size of a normal brain.

So what's surprising is that this particular brain is of a man who has only mild mental retardation and is in nearly every way fully functional. In fact, despite the slightly lower intelligence he's pretty average. So that brain, as small as it is, must have all of the components of the other, normal brain and nearly, if not just as many, neurons. That tiny brain would seemingly have 100 billions neurons in it somehow. Or at least the neurons that are left are taking over the duties of the neurons that should be there. That could be happening with the brain structures. Which is crazy.

What's even more incredible is that there's a woman in Britain who is a qualified nurse, completely fully functional, and has an IQ that is above average. This is the top of her brain:

That's fucking nuts dudes!

You can read up on the lady here; Link

Here's the story on the other brain; Link

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I'm Losing Weight Like a Mother-Fucker!

Fuck yeah! I'm running 15 miles a week now out on the roads with hills and all that fun stuff and I'm weight training 45 minutes every other day. I've lost 20 lbs and 4 inches in my waist. I have had a drink but it was one and I was done. Not to say that I didn't feel a pull to keep going but I didn't. So I'm feeling pretty good at the moment.

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44 Days...

Damn. It's been a long time since I've had a drink. I actually didn't realize until I came back to look at that last post. I've also kept up the exercise routine and that's working out really well. I feel calmer. It's pretty cool. I think I'm beyond the natural 'high' that comes with being clean for a few weeks and am now on to just being a normal person who doesn't drink. It's neat. I don't even think I would like to have a drink. The desire just isn't there anymore. I'm doing so well with the exercising and I feel so calm and relaxed without drinking. All that I can think about for when I was drinking was how hectic everything was. How fucking exhausting and monotonous everything seemed. Things just seem better. I don't really have words to describe it which is why I'm sort of rambling now. But it's safe to say I'm doing very well.

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7 Days...

So I had a bit of a setback. I went on vacation and also went on a binge. I couldn't even tell you what I was thinking when I did it. I felt overwhelmed for some reason. It was bullshit though. I just wanted to drink. It turned into binging because, no matter what I did, I couldn't get drunk. My tolerance is so high I couldn't get drunk no matter what I did. I drank a lot and wasn't getting the feeling I was looking for. I came to realization that this 'feeling' was a falsehood. I was chasing a dream. So I've decided to chase something else. Something palpable that I can realize and achieve. I'm working out, eating healthy, and am bound and determined to get myself and my dogs into the best shape of our lives. This is a goal I can reach. This can, and has, lead to a feeling that I can actually feel.

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17 Days...

...and counting. I haven't had an issue with impulses for the past ten days. It's been great. I even turned down a few drinks. We'll see where this goes from here.

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7 Days

I actually feel really good sober. It's weird but my mood is better. I feel more energetic. My memory is better. It's pretty neat. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been tempted to drink again. Just outside of where I'm typing there is a cavalcade of alcohol waiting to be drunk. But I don't want to lose how I'm feeling now. It's nice because I have been stressed this week. Not everything has gone perfectly. I've been overwhelmed by clients. Money is a continuous problem as a student. But I'm not drinking despite the stress. I'm proud of myself.

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4 Days

Four days clean from alcohol today. This is the second time I've tried to quit. The first time I felt like I was on cloud nine. It was fucking great. But then an event occurred at my job and it all went out the window. I had to make a decision whether or not a person was going to be hospitalized or not. This person was clearly suicidal but the danger was not imminent enough to warrant a 72 hour stay. The plan was vague and poorly thought out, there were no means available to carry out the plan, and the intention to commit suicide only occurred when the person was drunk. The intricacies of the plan couldn't have been carried out while drunk even if the means were there to carry the plan out which they weren't. So I created a gigantic plan for this person outside of going to the hospital. There were contingency plans for when the person was suicidal, drunk, or both. There was a commitment to safety. Everything was fine legally and morally. I even consulted with another therapist before I let the person leave the office just to double check my logic. My ass and conscious was covered. But I was still stressed. I thought that when I came back to the office the message machine would be from my client's friends or relatives and I would have had heard about her death. I was sick but I had no reason to be. The burden of being a lightening rod for pain and suffering I guess.

So my solution to deal with this stress was to follow an old formula. I got drunk. I figured I'd been clean a week and had earned the right to relieve the tension I had built up. I'd earned it right? So I got fucked up. I followed the same pattern I always follow. I started out by drinking with others. That turned to drinking by myself. Then drinking while smoking some cigarettes I had stolen from my roommate. Then I felt dumb for lighting up the cigarette and for drinking as much as I had so I threw the cigarettes out and dumped my 20-ish beer of the night, walked back inside, and passed out. The next morning I was hung over, grumpy, feeling like I had just let myself down, and went back to drinking because I pitied myself and the predicament I had put myself in.

Well I'm four days clean again. I'm not on cloud nine. But I guess that didn't help me much last time did it? I don't feel shitty though. I don't feel anything. My mind is just resting in my skull. It isn't numb and it doesn't hurt. It's just there. My eyes though. They are finding all the liquor in the house. The thing is I could get drunk five times over and keep drinking. There's that much beer and wine in the house. I could drink and drink and drink and there would be no real consequences. I could do my job. My family needs me too much to tell me to stop. Plus they're too nice. This whole “I'm done drinking” thing started because, at a family gathering, I got shit-faced. Very, very shit-faced. Passing out shit-faced. Secretly I might add. I was drinking out of my truck away from prying eyes. Everyone knew. Everyone had to know. I come from a nice, wholesome, whiter-than-white family who wouldn't know a joint from a cigarette but they aren't blind. I was falling over myself. I was a joke. Hence the need to better myself. But I haven't heard a thing about this from anyone. I'm essentially a black-sheep so to speak. But a black-sheep no one wants to acknowledge. So there's no consequences from my family. There's no consequences from my work. So why the fuck would I change?

I guess I think I'm better than that. I'm better than relying on something other then myself to improve my life or how I feel. I should be able to make myself better without making myself shit-faced at the same time. Plus, this blog just might keep me honest. If you're reading this then you are bored and checking out my profile because I'm not going to sync this with the main forums. This is just for me. But, if you want, you can read too.

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Re-Living the Past: 16-Bit Sonic (Part 2 of 2)

History

So Sonic 1 and 2 were gigantic hits. Sonic CD was a critical success and a big seller for the Sega-CD. Then came the spin off games. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, etc. Just a huge number of games were released with the Sonic name attached. Sonic had now officially become Sega's 'Mario' both in terms of quality in the main franchise and in terms of spin off's aping the 'Sonic' name. It was in the midst of the spin offs that Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were released. Originally planned to be one game, both were released separately on the same year. Both have unique histories beyond this. For example, Michael Jackson and a few of his writers wrote the music for Sonic 3 (though Jackson pulled his name from the credits or it was pulled depending on which rumor you read). Sonic and Knuckles came with a built-in slot in the top of the cart that allowed Sonic 2 and 3 to be plugged in to it for varying effects. Sonic and Knuckles with Sonic 2 plugged in allowed for Knuckles to be playable in that game. Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles, with Sonic 3 plugged into the Sonic and Knuckles cart, could be played as one big Sonic game. Even Sonic 1, when plugged in to the Sonic and Knuckles cart, could allow for access to all of the Sonic and Knuckles special stage zones (after a code was entered).

These two games were handled in an odd way. Being released in the same year. The weird slot on the top of the Sonic and Knuckles cart. It was all very strange. Both games, like Sonic 1 and 2, did well critically and commercially. But these two seem to be the Sonic games, of the original 16-bit games, that have the most die-hard and lukewarm fans. These games tend to be either loved or just sort of liked...you know, kinda.

Personal History

I was one of the lukewarm fans. I had bought everything Sonic before these two games came out. All of the Game Gear ports of the Master System Sonic games. The original Sonic games on Game Gear and the spin offs (like Tail's Adventure). The spin offs on the Genesis. Sonic CD. Kunckle's Chaotix. All of them. But for some reason, I wasn't particularly excited for either of these games. I don't really know what it was. Maybe I had just grown tired of Sonic games. But, for whatever reason, I never really 'loved' these games like I loved the first two as a child.

What About Now?

Sonic 3

Sonic 3 was an odd game to play immediately after Sonic 2. Sonic 2 was a fast game. Sonic 1 was fast no doubt but Sonic 2 just took that speed to another level. Granted, it made some of the platforming sort of sketchy. But man was it fast. Sonic 3, however, may be the slowest Sonic game to date. Sonic feels heavy and fat. He's easier to control and the platforming is much more manageable but it also loses that sense of speed that the Sonic franchise was built on. That said, it is good that he's a little slower because this game has a lot of platforming. More then either of the first Sonic games. Tricky jumps, using environmental features to advance, all of the things you would see in a normal platformer were there. Sonic 1 and 2 were platformers but they were platformers with caveats. Besides the later levels, the platforming was fairly simple, easy and mindless. Sonic 3 changed that. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The levels are definitely longer and the gameplay is more methodical. But is it better? I don't know. It is certainly different though. There are also many more bosses to fight in this game. After every act there is a boss. The first act is associated with a mini-boss and the second act is Robotnik. I'm also torn on this new development as well. I mean, it's nice that they are adding challenge but a) the bosses are easy and b) I'm not sure I really like fighting bosses in Sonic games.

This is simply a beautiful game. Awesome parallaxing and vivid colors are seen through each level. And speaking of the levels, each act is associated with a change in how the stage looks. In previous Sonic games, every act of each stage looked the same. Sonic 3 changed that and it leads to a much more varied and interesting presentation. The music is really nice as well. Only one stage (the ice stage) really had a Michael Jackson sound BUT it does really sounds nice.

Sonic and Knuckles

This game is very similar to Sonic 3 but it improves on it in key areas. Sonic is much faster this time but the controls are still tight allowing for the platforming to be much more manageable. Speaking of platforming, holy hell is there a lot of it in this game. And the bosses. There's actually a boss rush in this game where the player fights one boss after another. Unlike Sonic 3, there are some really cool boss fights in this game. Some really memorable ones. They go even further with 'story-telling' in this game then Sonic 3. There's not a lot of it, but you could actually say there are cutscenes in this game. That's crazy for a Sonic game. The music sounds really nice and the game looks amazing. This is like Sonic 3 with a shot of Sonic 1 and 2 and steroids.

Conclusion

I'm torn on these games. I think Sonic 3 is a hell of a game but is far too easy and far too slow. The bosses were too easy and kind of boring to fight. Sonic and Knuckles, technically, is the best Sonic game of the 16-bit era. It has the speed, it has the tight controls, it has the great music, cool boss fights, amazing graphics, and technical and well crafted platforming. It is clearly the best Sonic game to have been made of the original games. But I don't know if it is my favorite. Sonic 1 was the originator. It is simple, has a rough difficulty curve, and easy bosses. But I really like it. Sonic 2 is just crazy. It is stupidly fast, has a rough difficulty curve, and the platforming at the end of the game is really imprecise. But I can't shake the nostalgia I have for those games. Especially Sonic 1. I have so many good feelings with those games that I would take them over Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles any day.

So, I guess the end result is this. If you've never played these games and you want to you should play them all. But the one that you should play first and will likely like the best is probably going to be Sonic and Knuckles. It is the best 16-bit Sonic game. But it isn't my favorite Sonic game.

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Re-Living the Past: 16-Bit Sonic (Part 1 of 2)

History

The Sega Master System, a contemporary of the NES, had a couple of popular franchises. But none of them were able to match the quality or popularity of Mario. Sega's first attempt at a platformer designed to take on Mario was Alex Kidd. Though there were a few good, popular entries in this series none of them could match Mario. So, when Sega released the Genesis they felt they needed to create a franchise that could rival Nintendo and, maybe, even surpass it once and for all. Enter Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was designed to emphasis speed with platforming. The idea being that Mario was the slow, precise platformer while Sonic was the fast, crazier one. The first game in the series did exactly what it was intended to do. It sold like mad, it pushed sales of the Genesis, and was critically acclaimed. And then the franchise was beaten to a pulp by more and more Sonic-tagged games. While the regular, 2D platformers were acclaimed and usually sold well the 'other' games were a little hit or miss. Then the Dreamcast came out and Sonic would never be the same again.

Personal History

I grew up with a Colecovision and a Master System (though the MS was rarely hooked up). So I cut my teeth on old ass games. When my parents bought the Genesis with Sonic 1 bundled with it you can't imagine how amazing it felt to me. It felt like the future. The colors! The speed! The sound! It was so much better then a Colecovision. Those feelings were tied directly to Sonic and, as a result, I adored everything 'Sonic'. Even the games that were kind of bad I adored because they had Sonic (Sonic 3D Blast comes to mind).

What About Now?

Sonic 1

It was really hard for me to tear away my feelings about this game while trying to be objective. The game is still an absolute blast to play. For the most part that is. Yes, there is a lot of speed with this game. Especially with the first stage. But what I forgot is how much platforming is in this game. I guess I'm so used to tying Sonic to his current 'push up to win' style of gameplay that I forgot where he started. That said, the game isn't particularly difficult. Nor is it particularly harsh with punishment for poor platforming. That is, until the last few level but especially the very last level. That last level is associated with a dramatic ramp up in difficulty. That level is associated with so many things that are designed solely to kill you. The level is designed around speeding the player to a death trap throughout each act of the level. It's harsh. That said, it isn't necessarily unfair. It's just a little jarring when the rest of the game is a bit of a push over. This is a great game but slightly mindless (that is, until the last level).

Sonic 2

Right away the first thing I noticed was how much faster this game is then Sonic 1. It's also much more mindless. I spent a lot of time holding right and occasionally hitting the jump button. Really, the game doesn't introduce much platforming in the traditional sense until the last few levels. Speaking of, the last level is really frustrating. Because Sonic moves faster in this game then he did in Sonic 1 he has less traction and his movements feel 'slippy' (for lack of a better word). In the last level, this problem really starts to show itself. This level requires more precision then the other games and the controls have a hard time doing it. Then the final level; a two boss battle. Neither boss is particularly hard once you understand their patterns. Is just that, by the time you get to those bosses, you might have lost many of your lives on the previous level due to the issues mentioned before. So...yeah, it can be a little frustrating. BUT, all that said, it is a fun game. It looks great, it sounds great, and, for the most part, it controls fine (minus the later levels). It is more mindless then Sonic 1 but when you're having fun who cares?

Conclusion

Sonic 1 is a solid platformer. It is more mindless then Mario. But it wasn't necessarily trying to be Mario. It didn't need to be more technical or more precise then Mario. It need to be fun and that's exactly what it is. But it isn't a slouch either. As the game progresses, you can't just hold right to win. Precision is required just not extreme precision. Sonic 2 takes a bit of a step back in some ways and a step forward in others. It certainly looks better and is much faster. There's more variety to the levels and the bosses are more challenging overall then Sonic 1. But it is much, much more mindless. The 'holding right to win' technique works pretty well for a long time. It's only in the later levels that real platforming skill is required. But, where Sonic 1's moments of precision were fun and suited well to the controls Sonic 2 starts to frustrate. The last level before the final bosses can be really really frustrating especially if you take what you've learned from the previous levels and try to apply those skills to that level. Even when you are moving slowly, the level finds a way to frustrate. All that said, however, it is a very fun experience.

Pros:

-No matter how well you play the two games are a lot of fun, the games look and sound great, the gameplay still has a unique feeling to it that even later Sonic games have a hard time getting right, getting all of the chaos emeralds is a big challenge in both games.

Cons:

-When you need to precise frustration can set in, they can be fairly mindless games, the Tail's AI is more often then not awful and gets in the way more then helps, not everyone will enjoy the most challenging part of the two games; earning all the chaos emeralds.

I'll try to get the second part of this done shortly. In it, I'll talk about Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles.

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