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After books and vinyl, board games make a comeback | Life and style

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Forget Candy Crush, Fifa and Call of Duty – millennials are putting down their Xbox controllers and smartphones and picking up their dice as they embrace games their parents and grandparents used to love.

More and more people are exchanging marathon gaming sessions alone in a darkened room for the social fun of board games. With bars and cafes such as Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, and Draughts in London having a library of more than 800 games catering for the “cocktails and Cluedo” set, board games – as with colouring books – are no longer just Christmas presents for children.

Early next month tens of thousands of enthusiasts will descend on Birmingham NEC for the UK Games Expo, the third-largest hobby and games convention in the world. The event, in its 12th year, caters for all aspects of tabletop gaming, from classic board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo to Warhammer and trading card games.

Tony Hyams, director of UK Games Expo, says: “The event started in 2007, right in the teeth of the financial meltdown. We assumed it would struggle and were prepared for it to just a be a little local show. The first year we had 1,200 attendees over the two days. This year we are expecting closer to 40,000 over three days.

“We knew that people didn’t have much money, and we just wanted a great weekend. We kept prices as low as we could and packed as much fun in as possible. This seems to be a winning formula for everyone.”

He adds: “We have seen a real growth of interest in board games over the past 10 years.

“While the internet is a great thing, sitting down and playing with friends and family is becoming increasingly important. Having time away from our phones and computers where we can talk, play and enjoy time together is something board games let us do.”

Purchasing a tabletop game, as Hymas notes, “makes good financial sense”. Computer gaming on games consoles or even mobile phones is no longer a “pay-once” situation. In comparison with in-app or in-game purchases, self-contained board games with no extras required seem more appealing. Makers of electronic games have faced outrage from fans over their reliance on in-game purchases for titles such as Fifa 18 or Star Wars Battlefront II, which can take the already high cost of the games to an astronomical level.

This is one of the reasons why an increasing number of games are moving from the console to the table top. The post-second world war “atompunk” role-playing game Fallout 4 generated $750m in the first 24 hours after its launch but now there has been enough appetite to make it into a board game alongside classic video games such as Doom.

They are part of a trend – from books to vinyl, there is evidence of growing interest in the “real thing” rather than the digital versions. It is also an interest that can be shared across generations.

Elsa Tarring, 17, says: “In our house, we only have two remote controls for the Wii, so you can’t play with a big group of people, whereas with a board game you can. And adults are often useless with technology, so you can play a board game with them and no one is excluded.”

The tabletop gaming industry looked to be on the wane in 2015, when companies such as Games Workshop, which makes Warhammer fantasy models, were struggling financially. However, profits have since increased as more people move away from screens and towards human interaction in gaming.

Jonathan Berkowitz, of Hasbro Gaming, says: “The gaming industry is doing very well right now. We’re continuing to see popularity grow for all types of face-to-face games. With classic favourites such as Monopoly and Game of Life and new, social games such as Chow Crown and Don’t Lose Your Cool we are confident this momentum will continue.”



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AlphabetBooksFilmGamesGoogleHarvey WeinsteinMonarchyPhilip K DickPuzzle gamesRoyal weddingTechnologyUK newsWeddings

Electric dreams of Philip K Dickleburgh | Brief letters | Books

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No criticism of Georgina Chapman (‘I was so humiliated and so broken’, 11 May), but of the Guardian. Again you show an unhealthy interest in fashonista celebrity and weight loss – “the British fashion designer describes how she lost 10lbs in five days”, with an accompanying “Photograph: Annie Liebovitz for Vogue”. British or American? I’m sure your readers are desperate to know; and will you do an article on trauma weight loss?
Tim Davies
Batheaston, Somerset

Nicola Grove can rest assured that In the Night Garden is widely watched (Letters, 8 May). As a grandfather to three under-fours, it was already my regular viewing.
Don Chroston
Sunderland

I suppose a Google programme could write a fletter (Letters, 11 May). However, Flett is a rare name in the UK (except in the Orkneys) so in my experience the computer would invariably have signed it Fleet, Flatt or Flott, which might rather give the game away.
Keith Flett
London

Wouldn’t a Smart Compose letter to the Guardian nowadays be more likely signed off by a member of the House of Lords or someone on the Shropshire Union canal?
Ron Brewer
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

With a sense of the ridiculous that the great man himself would have enjoyed, predictive text once completed Philip K Dick for me as Philip Kingdom Dickleburgh.
Paul Simpson
Southsea, Hampshire

I would appreciate it if you could mark the suguru as easy, hard etc in the way you do the sudoku. I could then better plan my day.
Ruth Garrod
Twickenham, Middlesex

Join the debate – email [email protected]

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters



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Australia newsCultureeSportsGamesGames competitionsSportSydney

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport


Whenever an artist scheduled to play Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney Olympic Park doesn’t sell enough tickets, the venue tactfully drapes black cloth over the empty seats in the theatre’s uppermost section. Filling more than 18,000 seats is quite an ask, which is why only top-flight acts like Pink, Katy Perry, Shania Twain and Kendrick Lamar are attempting it in coming months.

The black cloth is not needed today. Sydney gaming enthusiasts have filled the venue almost to capacity for the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), a three-day professional video game tournament that rivals anything Qudos has hosted in terms of scale and spectacle.

Two groups of five men are onstage, seated at computer monitors. Headphones on, hunched forward, they sit almost completely immobile save for their flickering hands and darting eyes. Their coaches pace grimly behind them, watching the screens and muttering directives into their microphones.

Behind them, two enormous television monitors broadcast their onscreen actions. On the dusty streets of a Moroccan village, a band of balaclava-clad separatists is shot to pieces by a matching squad of Special Forces soldiers. Thirty seconds later, the soldiers are the ones cut down, caught in the crosshairs of a sniper as they stumble through a veil of smoke. A bomb planted on a cache of chemical weapons ignites, presumably killing thousands.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on, occasionally roaring its collective approval or disappointment. It is overwhelmingly male, although not noticeably more so than your average rugby league match. The main difference to any other sporting audience is that of age: the vast majority of attendees are in their 20s and 30s.



While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson/Helena Kristiansson, ESL

During lulls in play, they amuse themselves in the time-honoured way of bored Australian sports fans everywhere: by batting around a few beach balls and taunting security’s efforts to stop them. Chants of “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” are just as regular and inane as they are at the cricket. When events onscreen reach a climax, the immense amphitheatre thunders with the crowd’s euphoria.

If this scene sounds made-up, you have officially missed the boat on the eSports phenomenon. Competitive gaming is a billion-dollar industry, and Sydney has become the field’s domestic epicentre.

IEM is dedicated to Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a multiplayer first-person shoot-’em-up where teams of five compete against each other in simple, objective-based rounds. Teams either assume the role of “terrorists” trying to plant a bomb, or Special Forces-style “counter-terrorists” trying to stop them, with much carnage resulting.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on.



From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

Sixteen professional CS:GO teams from as far afield as the European Union, Brazil, the United States and China are competing at IEM for a share in the $310,000 prize pool. Individual games take less than two minutes, with tournament rounds decided via a best-of-30 format. Whichever team wins 16 games takes the round, like a set in a game of tennis, and the team that wins two of three rounds wins the contest and advances to the next stage.

For competitors, this is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views.

For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom.



For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

As the scene has become increasingly professionalised, competitive eSports has begun to resemble traditional sport far more than the old cliche of nerdy kids playing in a basement. Like any other sport, it has its own doping scandals, injuries and pay and contract disputes.

Teams are increasingly joining the World eSports Association, a peak body designed to standardise pay, conditions, rights and regulations across the industry. The major brands – Fnatic, Cloud9, Legacy – attract the same loyalty and fanaticism of elite sports teams. Their uniforms are adorned with the logos of hefty sponsors like Audi, Dr Pepper and Vodafone, and they scout lower pool-stage tournaments for talented players to sign.

Australian Oliver Tierney, known by the handle DickStacy, turned 21 three weeks ago and has been playing professionally for a year. Tierney has already played at international CS:GO tournaments in London, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and New Zealand, and is headed to Dallas in two weeks with Australian team Grayhound Gaming. His celebrity with the IEM crowd is evident by the reception he receives when he tries to use one of the venue’s bathrooms.

Ollie Tierney
(@DickStacyy)

When you go to the male bathroom at IEM, and proceed to stand in the middle of the urinal of 15 guys to take a piss then a fellow gentlemen says, “IS THAT DICKSTACYS DICK!?” All eyes then turn to your penis. Good times.


May 5, 2018

“I love the competitiveness of it, I love the group aspect,” Tierney says. “I never thought I’d be here in a million years.”

While Tierney has established himself overseas, he’s also keen to grow eSports domestically.

“The industry’s just going to keep growing and growing,” he says. “We’re completely behind in Australia at the moment; our internet’s too patchy, no one takes games seriously, the culture’s not there yet. But every kid these days knows what eSports is. The new generation coming through is where it’s going to happen.”

As the 16 male teams battle it out, the CS:GO Women’s Sydney Open plays in a side room. Around 100 people sit in the audience, making it the only space at IEM with more than a handful of women at any given time.

It’s a sober reminder of the gender disparity that permeates both sports and gaming culture. Like almost any other sport, women eSports players are woefully underpaid compared to their male counterparts. The two women’s teams in the grand final – Sydney Saints and Control ESports – are only competing for the lion’s share of $10,000 in prize money.

The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.



The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

The fact that eSports are gender segregated at all points more to the sexism present in the wider gaming scene than any disparity in ability. The 2014 Gamergate scandal, which saw female gaming journalists and critics of gaming culture’s more boorish aspects targeted by waves of online abuse, was the first rumbling of what would become the weaponised misogyny of the Trump campaign and the violent “incel” movement.

Nicole Constantine is the Sydney Saints’ manager, handling their schedules and day-to-day logistics. She thinks that while gender equality in eSports is a way off, the “step-by-step” work of women like the Saints is wearing down the barriers.

“If you give girls the opportunity, they will perform”, Constantine says. “Constantly criticising and comparing them to the boys’ leagues is useless, because they stand on their own.”

By Sunday, the 16 male teams have been whittled down to two: FaZe Clan, the home crowd favourites, and Astralis, hyped by MC Oliver D’Anastasi as “possibly the best team in the world”.

Despite FaZe Clan eventually blitzing the best-of-five rounds contest, the final takes nearly five hours. When they finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.

As Sydney goes about its Sunday, unaware of the growing phenomenon unfolding in its midst, 18,000 gaming devotees stand to cheer their new champions.





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CultureGamesHarry PotterMobile phonesSmartphonesTechnology

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery review: a shameless shake-down | Games

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery review: a shameless shake-down | Games


There’s about an hour of magic at the beginning of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, when an owl arrives from Dumbledore with a letter bearing your name and you’re whisked off to Diagon Alley to prepare for your wizarding education. Like a lot of smartphone games, Hogwarts Mystery looks a bit basic, but it’s not lazy; it’s colourful and gently humorous. Fan-pleasing touches come in the form of dialogue voiced by actors from the Harry Potter films, cameos from beloved characters and allusions to nuggets of Potter trivia.

The enchantment fades when you get to the first story interlude, where your character becomes tangled up in Devil’s Snare. After a few seconds of furious tapping to free yourself from its clutches, your energy runs out and the game asks you to pay a couple of quid to refill it – or wait an hour or for it to recharge. Sadly, this is absolutely by design.



Sardonic presence … Snape in the Potions classroom. Photograph: Jam City

From this point onwards Hogwarts Mystery does everything it can to stop you from playing it. You cannot get through even a single class without being interrupted. A typical lesson now involves 90 seconds of tapping, followed by an hour of waiting (or a purchase), then another 90 seconds of tapping. An outlay of £2 every 90 seconds is not a reasonable ask. Between story missions the wait times are even more egregious: three hours, even eight hours. Hogwarts Mystery pulls the old trick of hiding the true cost of its purchases behind an in-game “gem” currency, but I worked out that you’d have to spend about £10 a day just to play Hogwarts Mystery for 20 consecutive minutes. The interruptions prevent you from forming any kind of attachment to your fellow students, or to the mystery at the heart of the story. It is like trying to read a book that asks for money every 10 pages and slams shut on your fingers if you refuse.

Without the Harry Potter trappings the game would have nothing to recommend it. The lessons quickly become dull and the writing is disappointingly bland, though it does make an effort with character dialogue. Duelling other students and casting spells are fun, but most of the time you’re just tapping. Aside from answering the odd Potter-themed question in class, you never have to engage your brain. The waits would be more bearable if there was something to do in the meantime, like exploring the castle or talking to other students. But there is nothing to find at Hogwarts, and no activity that doesn’t require yet more energy.

Harry Potter is a powerful enough fantasy to override all that, at least for a while. The presence of Snape, Flitwick or McGonagall is just enough to keep you tapping through uneventful classes and clear effort has gone into recreating the look, sound and feel of the school and its characters. But by the time I got to the end of the first year I was motivated by tenacity rather than enjoyment: I WILL play this game, however much it tries to stop me. Then came the deflating realisation that the second year was just more of the same. I felt like the game’s prisoner, grimly returning every few hours for more thin gruel.

Avatars’ avarice … A hundred Gems cost around £2



Avatars’ avarice … A hundred gems cost around £2 Photograph: Jam City

What is sad is that it’s so unnecessary: Harry Potter fans would need little encouragement to spend a few quid here and there on clothes or wands to customise their characters, and there are countless examples of free-to-play games that offer players the option to spend money without ruining the experience (Fortnite, Pokémon Go and Dandy Dungeon, to name three). Hogwarts Mystery’s best chance for redemption would be if developer Jam City pulled back on the absurd timers in an update – but you get the dispiriting sense that the game was designed around them.

But even if the time restrictions were removed, it wouldn’t fix the paucity of things to do in virtual Hogwarts. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is a dull game with a great concept, made borderline unplayable by its hyper-aggressive monetisation.



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Arcade gamesBristolBusinessGamesTechnologyTravel & leisureUK newsVirtual reality

A new reality: could VR revive the amusement arcade? | Business

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The rise of the gaming console has left its mark on living rooms and bedrooms around Britain – but it has also hit the high street. There were around 1,000 amusement arcades in the UK in the 1980s, but that number had halved by 2011, according to the amusements industry trade body, Bacta.

Now, the next generation of gaming – virtual reality – is once again making the arcade the prime venue for playing cutting-edge games.

Back at the inception of gaming, fans went to video-game arcades. Japanese coin-operated games like Out Run and Street Fighter managed to draw in players once Pac-Man and Donkey Kong fell away, but they could not beat increasingly impressive home consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation, which came along in the mid-90s, and Microsoft’s Xbox at the turn of the century.

Seaside arcades have clung on as “family entertainment centres” or “mixed entertainment facilities”, full of games aimed at small children alongside rides and attractions.

However, VR Star in Bristol is one of several hundred virtual reality arcades around the UK that are persuading gamers to quit their homes for the high street. They mirror a global trend for dedicated “VRcades” springing up in the US, Japan, South Korea and China. With 380 such dedicated venues now operating around the world, could VR offer the arcade a route back in the shape of so-called “destination gaming”?

While it’s possible to buy budget technology, good quality VR is expensive. HTC’s Vive headset is available for around £599 in the UK, but to function effectively it requires a computer with serious processing power and a high quality graphics card, raising the bar to thousands of pounds. Even then you’re not tapping the full potential of VR gaming.

The driving simulators and shoot-em-ups in VR Star Bristol are further brought to life with motion sensors and high-quality sound, taking the experience to another level. The 360-degree visuals and depth of field take on another dimension when paired with hydraulics and tilting floors. LA-based Dreamscape Immersive’s Alien Zoo experience even uses wind machines to add to the sensation of movement.

“To get the full experience, VR needs what we call SiSoMo: sight, sound and motion,” says Martin Higginson, the executive chairman of British developer Immotion, which owns VR Star. “If you want a truly immersive experience you need high-end components, and for that reason VR will be an out-of-home experience for some years. I’ve spent most of my life in digital media and it is the most exciting thing yet.”

Situated in a modest space in Cabot Circus shopping centre, VR Star was launched to test the waters in mid-December. By the beginning of March, it had admitted 4,000 customers, paying £30 an hour.

The enthusiastic response has encouraged the company to open four more venues in Swindon, Cardiff, Manchester and Leeds. A total of 60 VR Stars are planned around the country, along with units in existing arcades and custom-made rides for brands such as Legoland. Just before Christmas, Immotion announced a £1.3m investment to launch its platforms in Europe and the US.

The units in VR Star play games from a Chinese developer but Immotion intends to run its own titles following last year’s acquisition of Studio Liddell, a Manchester-based animation producer.

“What you see and experience currently is like the early days of computer gaming,” says Higginson. “It’s going to improve rapidly. Those games are 2K [screen resolution] but very soon we will be running 4K with faster processing and better rendering. We will take you on Jurassic rides or helicopter you over the Serengeti and it will blow you away.”

Experts say VR has come at the right time for the arcade business. “Arcades have always had lifecycles reflecting changing innovation,” says Devi Kolli, the head of VR equipment firm AiSolve. “They can’t survive the way they are without reinventing themselves with cutting-edge technology, and we are part of that. The response to VR so far suggests the market is hungry for good products.”

If they are prepared to invest in the new generation of VR, existing arcades could enjoy a return to prominence as gaming destinations, though they will have to compete with dedicated spaces like VR Star.

Jeremy Dalton, a VR consultant at PwC, is more positive. He says the complexity of setting up VR experiences offers an ideal chance for arcades. “The set-up issues with VR provides a perfect opportunity for third parties … and that’s gaming arcades. You just hand over your money and enjoy the ride.”



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AppsCultureGamesLive streamingPeter ThielQuiz and trivia gamesTechnologyUK newsUS newsVineWorld news

No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology

No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology


Imagine the intellectual and social pressure of a pub quiz, then multiply it by more than 2 million people.

Every day, at 3pm and 9pm sharp, an army of teenagers, students, pensioners and office workers stop what they are doing, whip out their smartphones and fire up an app to take part in a new online craze called HQ Trivia, the pub quiz brought kicking and screaming into the smartphone era.

As many as 2 million people in the US and about 200,000 playing the UK version at the same appointed hours watch a live quizmaster broadcasting from a New York studio surrounded by colourful graphics bursting from the screen.

The host asks players a series of increasingly difficult questions in a15-minute version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire crossed with the Hunger Games.

There’s no forgetting the game times. Players, called HQties, are reminded by a phone notification. Anyone and everyone can play for free all at the same time, eliminated with one wrong answer.

The prize pot ranges from £500 to £200,000 or more, to be shared among the winners. Answer 12 heart-pounding multiple-choice questions right and the money is yours.

Few are going to get rich playing. In Thursday night’s UK game more than 160,000 people started playing, and 51 answered all of the questions correctly. With a prize pot of just £550, they banked £11 each.

The catch is that players have to answer each question within 10 seconds, which is barely enough time to figure out what’s being asked, let alone answer with any real thought.



Sharon Carpenter presents a recent round of HQ Trivia quiz in the UK. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The 10 second slot means the answers can’t be Googled, because by the time contestants brains have assessed the three possible responses the time has run out. There are also distractions – a constant stream of inane chat from the app’s hundreds of thousands of viewers which streams across the bottom of the screen and “shout-outs” – birthday wishes and other mentions blurted out by the host between questions.

The game, which is available for Android and the iPhone, is the brainchild of Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll , the co-founders of Vine, the six-second video-sharing app bought by Twitter for $30m (£22m) and since closed down.

It is currently burning through $15m of capital venture money provided by Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early investor in Snapchat, and an investment fund set up by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel. .

The app launched in the US in August 2017 and is hosted by the New York standup Scott Rogowsky, who has quickly gained cult status as the “quiz daddy”..

The UK version is hosted by British-born, New York-based Sharon Carpenter. It was launched in January and is following a similar trajectory to its US sibling. Carpenter answers in her couldn’t-be-more-British daytime TV manner and delivers snippets of extra trivia between questions.

HQ Trivia questions



HQ Trivia questions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Thousands are eliminated as the rounds go by. In particularly gruelling “savage” questions tens of thousands can be ruled out. Once a week there’s even a special edition of the game in which remaining players continue to answer questions until only one is left holding the whole cash prize. It can be quite riveting.

The popularity of the app has not gone unnoticed. Celebrities and brands have queued up to appear as guest hosts in the US or to sponsor the games. Sting, Shaggy, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Robert De Niro and Ryan Seacrest have all made appearances. Nike gave away Air Max trainers on one $100,000 game and the movie Ready Player One pumped the prize up to $250,000 for another.

The hope for the investors ploughing their money into the game and financing the prize pots is that at some point down the line HQ Trivia will be able to take advertising, offer more sponsored games and product giveaways or pivot users away from the quizzes into more direct-to-smartphone live interactive entertainment.

The app has faced its fair share of controversies already, primarily about its founders and investors, and apps such as The Q and QuizBiz are lining up with similar combinations of cash prizes and celebrity hosts.

Right now though the live-stream quiz crown is HQ’s to lose.

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12 questions

Here are the dozen questions, in order, played at Thursday 3 May at 3pm (BST). Correct answers in bold:

1 What did the “N” stand for in the SNES gaming console?

Non-denominational

Nothing

Nintendo

2 In computing, the abbreviation “WWW” stands for which of the following?

Weird wired wellies

Wonderful Welsh weather

World wide web

3 What does the Queen listen to every day at 9am when she is at Balmoral?

Bagpipes

Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw

Changing the Guard

4 In science, which of these is regarded as the opposite of the Big Bang?

Big Crunch

Big Contraction

Big Squeeze

5 Which of these characters was NOT a member of staff in “Downton Abbey”?

Mr Carson

Mr Hudson

Mrs Patmore

6 Which of these US states has the longest coastline?

Florida

Texas

California

7 In the latest Times overall “World University Rankings” list, which is the only Asian country to make the top 25?

South Korea

Singapore

India

8 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window inspired which of these horror movies from the noughties?

Paranormal Activity

Let the Right One In

Disturbia

9 Which of these seas creatures does NOT eat lobster?

Eel

Swordfish

Flounder

10 Which of these celebrities has starred in a Duran Duran video?

Davina McCall

Claudia Winkleman

Tess Daly

11 After Marita Koch, who was the next female athlete to win three gold medals at the same World Athletics Championships?

Merlene Ottey

Allyson Felix

Marion Jones

12 What codename did Jason Bourne use when he was originally deployed in south-east Asia?

Alpha One

Delta One

Bravo One



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Red Dead Redemption 2: new trailer released for 2018’s most anticipated game | Games

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Rockstar Games has released a new trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most anticipated video games of the year.

The game, which will be out on October 26, is a prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, a western set in 1911 that followed the ill-fated outlaw John Marston in his attempts to redeem himself in the eyes of the law. Red Dead Redemption 2 stars Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang that played a pivotal role in the first game’s storyline. It is set in 1899, and the new trailer shows the gang on the run as the West becomes less wild.

Rockstar Games most recently released Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, which has just become the single most profitable entertainment product of all time according to analysts at MarketWatch. Originally made for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, it was remastered for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014, and released on PC in 2015. It still regularly places in the top 10 in the UK video game sales charts and has sold a cumulative total of over 90m.

Rockstar was awarded Bafta Fellowship in 2014. The company’s co-founders, Sam Houser and Dan Houser, made a rare public appearance to collect the award.



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From VR to games, immersive technologies are teaching us about sexual harassment | World news

From VR to games, immersive technologies are teaching us about sexual harassment | World news


Through the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, I find myself in an industrial, light-strewn office space – a far cry from the windowless basement office I’m sitting in.

There are four “co-workers” with me – a woman, Rachel, and three guys – talking about an upcoming conference in Las Vegas. The conversation takes a locker room turn, with the men joking about afterparties, vodka and Jacuzzis. Rachel tries to bring the conversation back to her presentation. Suddenly the boss grabs her arm and says: “Rachel, one very important note. Remember it’s a party, pack something … fitting.”

Rachel snatches her arm back and is noticeably uncomfortable. Suddenly, I receive a text message from my co-worker Chris on a virtual cellphone I’m holding (actually the VR controller). He’s noticed Rachel’s discomfort and asks: “So that just happened. Should we say something?”

This scenario is part of a corporate sexual harassment training program called Vantage Point, created by the entrepreneur Morgan Mercer, a two-time survivor of sexual violence. It uses the immersive properties of VR to place people directly into scenes that illustrate the subtleties of grooming, harassment and discrimination in a visceral and interactive way.

At a time of #MeToo, Mercer is hoping human resources departments will stop seeing sexual harassment training as a box-ticking exercise and start seeking real results.

Research indicates that people who go through virtual reality training – as opposed to videos, PowerPoint or in-person seminars – retain significantly more information.

“We want to make it as immersive as possible – because the closer you can get to actual embodiment of the character, the more likely your response will reflect what you would do in a real-life situation,” Mercer said.

In the case of the aforementioned “should we say something?” question, there were four possible responses to choose from. The answers are ranked from best to worst, with the best answer being “We should ask how she’d like to handle it”, followed by “We should report this to HR”.

Depending on how you respond to the multiple-choice questions sent via text, the narrative branches in different directions – either escalating or de-escalating. Repeated wrong answers are met with “empathy training” in the form of a phone call where Mercer explains where you slipped up.

The training program – designed for both men and women – covers three “modules”: bystander intervention (which I did), identification of sexual harassment and learning to respond to harassment when it happens to you.

“We’re trying to teach communal accountability. It’s not enough to say: ‘I didn’t sexually harass anyone; my hands are clean,’” Mercer said. “If you see it, speak out. Either to the person doing it or the receiver of inappropriate attention.”

Mercer wants Vantage Point’s VR training to become the gold standard for companies and is drawing on scientific research to develop best practice guidelines. There are no existing standards – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sets regulations, but only three states in the US require any sexual harassment training.

Vantage Point is currently carrying out pilot research with the first “bystander” module with the fintech startup Tala and the payroll platform Justworks, with plans to roll out the service by the end of the year.

In Chicago, gaming is used to start conversations with young people



A still from Bystander, a game in which teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault. Photograph: Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab

In the hopes of changing attitudes and behaviors that allow sexual misconduct to happen in wider society, others, from health professionals to indie game designers, are turning to another immersive technology – video games.

“When we first started talking about games and sexual assault, it just doesn’t sound right on the ear, but having this interactive space where you can explore an issue that’s slightly outside of yourself is really helpful,” said Melissa Gilliam, an adolescent obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Chicago.

Gilliam has found video games can be a much-needed catalyst for conversations about these tough issues through work with her team at the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3), which she founded to study sexual and reproductive health problems, especially in underrepresented communities.

The center’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (GCC) is currently researching the efficacy of Bystander, a comic book-style game in which teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault, including teachers making inappropriate comments and feeling pressured to have sex with your partner.

A still from Bystander, a game where teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault.



A still from Bystander, a game where teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault. Photograph: Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab

Throughout the game, rape myths – such as: “I’m not the type of person this happens to” – are presented, and players must decide how to respond. There is no penalty for players who make the wrong choice in a given situation. They are simply retaught earlier lessons.

The episode outlines were developed through discussions with youth advisers, who also ensured the adult game designers accurately captured teen language.

“We saw where young people took it and they often were telling stories and events from their lives, and they said you finally gave us the space that enabled us to have these conversations,” said Gilliam. “It was almost as if the young people drove us to yes, you can deal with these issues in this context in this medium.”

The game was first implemented in two 12th-grade classrooms in November 2016. Of the 46 students who participated in the study, 97.6% found the game presented valuable information, which 60% said was personally relevant, according to the pilot study.

Researchers are analyzing data from the most recent implementation round, which brought the game to 1,000 students aged 14 to 18.

A still from Bystander, a game where teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault.



A still from Bystander, a game where teenage players encounter four episodes of harassment and assault. Photograph: Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab

Efforts to teach sexual assault and harassment prevention through games have largely been aimed at university students or as therapeutic tools for victims.

The University of Chicago team said its early research showed these interventions should be starting at an earlier age. “When we talk about intervening at the college age, we have to seriously consider that we’re perhaps four years or more too late,” said Jennifer Rowley, who oversaw implementation of Bystander at four Chicago high schools in the summer of 2017.

While students were initially skeptical about Bystander, Rowley said it quickly provided an opportunity for the teenagers to discuss sensitive issues for the first time, such as how they define consent. Rowley said it was also clear these things had been on their minds before.

“We saw 14-year-olds who had very formed opinions about sexual violence and harassment and what was appropriate and what wasn’t and who is to blame and who wasn’t,” Rowley said.

The four-day curriculum began with lessons by violence prevention educators and counselors from the Young Women’s Christian Association of Metropolitan Chicago (YWCA), who were also available to students who disclosed incidents of sexual harassment or assault.

These educators complimented lessons taught in the game, which is named after the bystander approach, a method of sexual harassment and assault prevention which gives the community, not just the victims, a role in preventing this behavior.

“Sexual harassment is a large enough cultural problem that we need a broad suite of interventions to tackle it in the coming years,” said Patrick Jagoda, who co-founded GCC with Gilliam and is a professor at the university’s English and cinema schools. “So for me, something like the bystander approach is a piece of a larger cultural puzzle. We’re not claiming the four episodes in the game are covering every topic in sexual violence and sexual harassment.”

The extensive research and development of the GCC stands in contrast to a smaller scale effort to capture sexual assault in a game by Nina Freeman, an indie game designer based in Seattle.

Freeman was a graduate student when in March 2015 she published a semi-autobiographical game about sexual assault, Freshman Year.

“This is my story and I hope it can inspire people to tell their stories if that’s empowering for them,” Freeman told the Guardian.

Nina Freeman and Laura Knetzger

A still from Freshman Year. Photograph: Nina Freeman and Laura Knetzger

The game’s format is typical of her work – artistic vignettes loosely depicting personal experiences. The game takes only a few minutes to play, but in that short time, the eerie music and lush colors transport the player past their computer screen into the shoes of a college student whose fun conversation with a friend turns dark.

With the help of two collaborators, Freeman evokes an atmosphere that is surreal yet anchored by concrete details. The most concrete being that no matter what decision the player makes in the game, which is still available to play online, the result is the same.

Freeman said she received almost universal positive feedback to Freshman Year, but emphasized she was trying to capture a personal experience and does not intend for the game to be a grand statement about sexual assault.

“I know every woman’s experience is different depending on race and class and everything, and this is very specific to me,” Freeman said. “It’s not supposed to be an everywoman story.”



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Belgium is right to class video game loot boxes as child gambling | Keza MacDonald | Games

Belgium is right to class video game loot boxes as child gambling | Keza MacDonald | Games


Yesterday, the Belgian minister of justice, Koen Geens, announced the result of an investigation that the country’s Gaming Commission conducted into video game “loot boxes”, a mechanic that lets players pay real money for a chance at winning virtual items. It found that three popular games – Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fifa 18 – were in violation of gambling legislation. This is a significant finding, because controversy over loot boxes has been raging for at least six months: are they actually a form of gambling? Worse, are they a form of gambling that is particularly appealing to children?

Belgium’s Gaming Commission has decided that, yes, they are, and the publishers in question should remove loot boxes from their games or face fines. (EA and Blizzard, publishers of two of the games in question, did not respond to requests for comment on how they plan to comply; a Valve spokesperson said that the company is “happy to engage with the Belgian Gambling Commission and answer any questions they may have.”) There might be no financial incentive to buying loot boxes – you never win any money – but they are still a game of chance. “A dialogue with the sector is necessary,” said Geens: “It is often children who come into contact with such systems and we can not allow that.”



EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, subject of a loot box controversy last year.
The company has said it will no longer offer them. Photograph: Electronic Arts

Often when governments get involved with trying to legislate over video games – as President Trump threatened to do after the Florida school shooting in February – it comes from a place of moral panic, and a lack of understanding of games themselves. A spurious causal link is drawn between video games and violence, or truancy, or mental health problems in young people. Despite decades of research showing no correlation between violent games and violent behaviour, and despite the fact games are played and enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people without social collapse.

In the case of loot boxes, though, the Belgian government is spot on. There are better ways to make money than applying gambling principles to video games that ought to be harmless fun.

Loot boxes exist because video-game development on a large scale is an increasingly expensive business. The development costs of blockbuster-style games have increased tenfold in 10 years, according to data compiled by industry veteran Raph Koster, with budgets now running into hundreds of millions of dollars. Players, however, are reluctant to accept price increases; a newly released game still costs £50-£60, pretty much the same as it did 15 years ago. Pricing hasn’t even kept up with inflation.

To address the shortfall, video game publishers have devised various ways of enabling players to spend extra money. For instance, DLC (downloadable content) offers virtual cosmetic items to customise a character, new story chapters to play through, or extra maps to battle upon – all optional. It has also become customary to offer a “season pass” to players – pay an extra £10 to £30 or so, and you’ll have access to all the extra content that’s released for a game over time. Online modes keep people playing for months or years rather than weeks, and players can pay to customise a character or buy a new car or in-game apartment – usually with either real money, or in-game money that takes time to earn.

Loot boxes, however, are a fairly new invention – one that crossed over from free-to-play smartphone games, which have traditionally been less scrupulous about wheedling money out of players (and, perhaps consequently, been more successful at doing so). With a loot box, you pay for a chance to obtain a virtual item – usually with real money. It’s a slot-machine style system where, although you’re guaranteed to get something on every spin, the chance of getting what you actually want is vastly reduced.

This works on the same part of the brain as any game of chance; the dopamine hit is enjoyable, but potentially addictive, and hard to resist. Players quite regularly spend hundreds on loot boxes – just ask players of Fifa Ultimate Team, who can buy Team Packs in the hope of unlocking a coveted player.

The Belgian report found several issues with loot boxes: the rewards are uncertain, causing an emotional reaction; players can be misled into believing they are buying an advantage; popular YouTubers and other celebrities promote them; the actual chance of receiving particular items is often hidden from the player. The exposure of these chance mechanics to children was a particular concern.

“Mixing games and gambling, especially at a young age, is dangerous for mental health,” said Geens. “We must ensure that children and adults are not presented with games of chance when they are looking for fun in a video game.”

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game deemed in contravention of Belgian gambling laws. (Photo from 2016’s championship in Moscow.)



Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game deemed in contravention of Belgian gambling laws. (Photo from 2016’s championship in Moscow.) Photograph: Kommersant via Getty Images

Gamers everywhere would welcome the removal of these insidious inventions. There is nothing worse than feeling forced to spend money to keep up in a video game, especially when spending money doesn’t even guarantee you the item that you want. Adults might find it easy to resist the appeal of new gun skins in Counter-Strike, or outfits for Overwatch characters, but for the teens who predominantly play these games, that perspective may be lacking.

One need only look to Fortnite, one of the most popular games in the world right now, to see things done right: in Fortnite you can pay about £8 for a Battle Pass every few months, which unlocks fun new challenges and lets you earn all the new stuff you could want, just by playing.

Games are getting more and more expensive to make, but the video games industry should not need to employ the tricks of the gambling industry to plug the gap. If the Belgian government’s decision leads to a Europe-wide ruling on loot boxes, hopefully publishers will be forced to come up with better ways to monetise their games – and players might have to get comfortable with the idea of paying more for them in the first place.

This article was amended on 26 and 27 April 2018 to include a statement from Valve and to correct the spelling of Koen Geens’ last name.



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Rick Dickinson, designer of Sinclair home computers, dies | Technology

Rick Dickinson, designer of Sinclair home computers, dies | Technology


The designer of the Sinclair Spectrum home computer, Rick Dickinson, has died of cancer in the US.

Dickinson joined Sinclair Research, a British consumer electronics company founded by the inventor Sir Clive Sinclair, in 1979 after graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic’s industrial design programme.

He worked at the company during the period in which the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers were released. The ZX80 was marketed as the first home computer in the UK to cost less than £100.


Rick Dickinson, designer of the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum. Photograph: Twitter

Dickinson designed home computers with touch-sensitive and rubber keys, giving them a unique aesthetic. In 1981 he won a Design Council award for his work on the ZX81.

The award-winning design of the Sinclair ZX81, which was launched in March 1981.



The award-winning design of the Sinclair ZX81, which was launched in March 1981. Photograph: Andy Drysdale / Rex Features

The ZX80 and ZX81 were forerunners to the popular ZX Spectrum. Initially available in 16k and 48k models, the computers cost up to £175. Including later models, it is estimated that more than 5m ZX Spectrums were sold.

In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Dickinson spoke about the risk involved in launching the ZX Spectrum. “No matter how much history one might have with successful products like the ZX80 and 81, there is always a niggling doubt in one’s mind that to come out with something new and significantly different is a risk,” he said.

“We were all overwhelmed by the demand and the number of products that were sold.”

The rubber ZX Spectrum keyboard was the result of the company’s mission to drive down production costs.

“With the Spectrum keyboard, We minimised it from several hundred components in a conventional moving keyboard, to maybe four or five moving parts using a new technology,” Dickinson told the BBC.

The popularity of the games developed for the computers has endured and many have been repackaged in newer products such as the ZX Spectrum Vega.

A Sinclair ZX80 home computer.



A Sinclair ZX80 home computer. Photograph: Alamy

In a 2014 interview published online by Gareth Halfacree, Dickinson said he was alerted to the continued popularity of his designs when a younger colleague wore a ZX SpectrumT-shirt. His co-worker’s fashion statement inspired Dickinson to upload archive photos of the original ZX Spectrum design process to Flickr.

In later years, Dickinson published reimaginings of early Sinclair designs, producing a series of images of the ZX Spectrum Next.

Rick Dickinson
(@rickdickinson12)

Is it time to crowd fund a real #ZXSpectrum ? pic.twitter.com/er2ZDBqExY


January 15, 2015

Dickinson became interested in design as a child after playing with Lego and Airfix kits, eventually moving on to making radio-controlled aircraft and boats. His longtime ambition was to be a civil engineer.

The Alpia drawing board on which Dickinson designed computers in the 1980s is on display at the Science Museum in London.

In 2016, he was interviewed by the BBC as part of a programme celebrating The Brits Who Designed the Modern World.

After leaving Sinclair, Dickinson founded a Cambridgeshire industrial design company, Dickinson Associates. The company specialises in in products for the scientific, life-science, telecoms and medical industries – including a wireless patch system that allows expectant mothers to monitor foetal health.





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