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Nov 26, 2011

Curiosity (did not) kill the cat

Today at 10:02 am the latest Mars Rover, Curiosity was launched into the deep space. The $2.5 billion exploratory system started its eight month journey to Mars where it will spend another two years researching the conditions for (past or future) life. The nuclear-powered Curiosity is much larger than any previous Mars Rover and five times heavier. Its equipment includes a drill on a 2.1-meter arm and a laser to vaporize rocks for easier onboard analysis.

When I first watched this video this morning I was really amazed by the technology, the landing strategy and the terrific level of sophistication of the rover system. Then I thought to myself - if there is enough brainpower on earth to make this vision a reality, then it must be also possible to workout a solution for the global economy!

Nov 06, 2011

A view of future productivity

A future vision of productivity from Microsoft

Role of the Primary Motor Cortex in the Early Boost in Performance Following Mental Imagery Training

Role of the Primary Motor Cortex in the Early Boost in Performance Following Mental Imagery Training


PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26717


Authors: Debarnot U, Clerget E, Olivier E

Abstract. Recently, it has been suggested that the primary motor cortex (M1) plays a critical role in implementing the fast and transient post-training phase of motor skill consolidation, known to yield an early boost in performance. Whether a comparable early boost in performance occurs following motor imagery (MIM) training is still unknown. To address this issue, two groups of subjects learned a finger tapping sequence either by MIM or physical practice (PP). In both groups, performance increased significantly in the post-training phase when compared with the pre-training phase and further increased after a 30 min resting period, indicating that both MIM and PP trainings were equally efficient and induced an early boost in motor performance. This conclusion was corroborated by the results of an additional control group. In a second experiment, we then investigated the causal role of M1 in implementing the early boost process resulting from MIM training. To do so, we inhibited M1 by applying a continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) in healthy volunteers just after they learnt, by MIM, the same finger-tapping task as in Experiment #1. As a control, cTBS was applied over the vertex of subjects who underwent the same experiment. We found that cTBS applied over M1 selectively abolished the early boost process subsequent to MIM training. Altogether, the present study provides evidence that MIM practice induces an early boost in performance and demonstrates that M1 is causally involved in this process. These findings further divulge some degree of behavioral and neuronal similitude between MIM and PP.

About serious games

“Serious gaming” is a growing trend that is attracting the attention of the industry and the research community. Basically, a serious game is a virtual interactive simulation, in which players learn skills and competences that can be then applied in the “real” world.

The adjective “serious” refers to the fact that these games that are designed to not only entertain users, but have additional purposes such as solving a problem or promoting change at the individual/societal levels. By engaging in simulations of real situations, participants try to reach a the game’s goal by enacting specific strategies and behaviors.

Advocates of this approach claim that serious games foster motivation to learn, offer immediate feedback, support skills development and facilitate knowledge transfer. In addition, by playing in a virtual world users can experience their own actions to be effective, thereby gaining a feeling of self-efficacy. However, these claims have received so far little empirical evidence because research in this field is still in its infancy; in particular, few studies exist to date that have assessed the effectiveness of serious games beyond usability evaluation.

The aims of serious games can be various, ranging from business training, educational or social campaigns and promotional activities. Ben Sawyer and Peter Smith have proposed a taxonomy of serious games  which include the following categories:

  • Games for Health
  • Advergames
  • Games for Training
  • Games for Education
  • Games for Science and Research
  • Production, and Games as Work

Games for health are used to improve public health education, assist rehabilitation/therapy and enhance wellness. An example is SnowWorld, a virtual reality pain distraction game for burn patients developed by Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson (video)

Advergames (a portmanteau of "advertising" and "gaming") are used to advertise a product, organization or viewpoint. Games for training are designed to train employees in variety of domains, including commerce, business, industry, emergency services, and the military. For example, Luca Chittaro and colleagues at the HCI lab of University of Udine have created a a 3D game for improving decision making skills of nurses working in ambulance services (video).

Games for education are games that combine education and entertainment in order to teach people about a certain subject, expand concepts, reinforce development, understand an historical event or culture, or assist them in learning a skill as they play” (source: Wikipedia). Ratan and Ritterfeld (2009) reviewed a total of 612 educational games and provided a classification along four dimensions:

  • primary educational content;
  • primary learning principle;
  • target age group;
  • platform.

In this paper published on the Journal for Computer Game Culture, Johannes Breuer and Gary Bente provide an in-depth discussion on the relationship between serious games and learning.

Games for Science and Research have the specific purpose of helping scientists in processing complex data (i.e. the Folding at Home project, video) or improving the public understanding of science.

Another example is Power of Research, a free online strategy game designed to inspire more European young people to choose research careers. The category Production include games designed for supporting the development/manufacturing of new products. Finally, Games as Work refers to games that players use to earn money or other type of material rewards (i.e. professional gamers, games designed to collect funds or donations).

In sum, interactive serious games represent an interesting new trend in HCI which has several implications for cyberpsychology research and practice. Actually, although serious games are proliferating and applied in a number of different domains, several issues remain to be addressed concerning their design and evaluation. Research topics that are relevant to the field of cyberpsychology include, for example, the definition of methods/procedures/guidelines for assessing games outcomes and the elaboration of underlying theories (i.e. Flow, Presence etc.) that explain psychological mechanisms elicited through serious game play.

More to explore

Here, we provide a list of web resources related to serious games.

  • Serious Games Initiative is a site focused on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector.
  • Serious Game Classification This site provides collaborative classification system suited to Serious Games, based on multiple criterias. The games are classified according to their gameplay, their purposes, their markets and target audience, alongside with user-contributed keywords.
  • Ludus Project is the website of the EU-funded project LUDUS, which aims at creating a European network for the transfer of knowledge and dissemination of best practices in the innovative field of Serious Games.
  • Serious Games Market is a blog providing information about recent market trends in the field of serious gaming.
  • Serious Games Conference is a conference that explore the world of serious games.
  • Serious Games Summit focuses on the application of videogames in training, health, education, behavior change, science, advertising, and general productivity.

15:16 Posted in Serious games | Permalink | Comments (0)