SkillJam Launches US$1 Million Skill Games World Championship(TM) To Find The Best Casual Gamer In The World

Thursday September 8, 7:00 am ET
Skill-based games company challenges Solitaire, Zuma and Bejeweled 2 fans to compete for $2 million in total cash and prizes
LONDON, Sept. 8 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ - FUN Technologies plc ("FUN"), a leading provider of skill games, fantasy sports and online sports information, announced today that its subsidiary, SkillJam Technologies Corporation ("SkillJam"), will hold the first ever million-dollar "Skill Games World Championship(TM)".
"We are pleased to offer this exciting, unprecedented tournament, which has been designed to determine the best casual gamer in the world," said Paul Jensen, president of SkillJam, the world's leading provider of skill games. "SkillJam recognizes that casual gamers are a driving force in the games community by introducing the largest tournament of its kind. Gamers will compete for cash and prizes totaling more than $2 million, simply by playing versions of their favorite skill-based games."
Lorne Abony, chief executive officer of SkillJam's parent company, FUN Technologies, added, "Skill-based gaming is experiencing hyper-growth, currently reaching an audience that is estimated to be over 100 million gamers worldwide. The Skill Games World Championship takes that excitement to a new level, with players getting a chance to walk away with the grand prize of $1 million."
The Skill Games World Championship will crown the best all-around player of three of the most popular skill-based casual games ever created: "Solitaire", "Zuma" and "Bejeweled 2". These games make up the cornerstone of the casual gaming space. In fact, according to Popcap, its Bejeweled / Bejeweled 2 franchise alone has sold more than 5 million units, and has provided more than 1 billion hours of enjoyment to tens of millions of players since the original Bejeweled game debuted in 2001.
The tournament utilizes SkillJam's proprietary tournament technology. Contestants can enter the Championship through one of approximately 400 qualifier tournaments provided on
www.skilljam.com, www.skillgamesworldchampionship.com, or via SkillJam partner sites such as AOL Games, eBay, GSN, MSN Games and Real Networks. In order to advance to the Finals, a player only needs to win a single qualifying tournament in any of the three games. Finalists will be flown to Los Angeles in March 2006 to compete against each other in a live, potentially televised event. The player with the best combined performance will be crowned the Skill Games World Champion(TM), and awarded a $1 million cash prize.
About SkillJam Technologies
SkillJam, a subsidiary of FUN, is the leading multi-channel provider of skill-gaming technology and solutions and boasts more than 70 skill games across all gaming genres, including Puzzle, Arcade, Card and Tile, Word, Trivia and Multi-Player games. SkillJam develops and distributes skill-gaming solutions across online, mobile, and iTV platforms, while providing a host of private-label gaming solutions for a broad network of partner destination sites in the US and abroad, including AOL, MSN Games, and Disney's Go.com. In 2005, SkillJam has partnered with many more leading global brands, including eBay, GSN and Virgin Games.
About FUN Technologies plc
FUN Technologies plc is a leading provider of skill gaming, fantasy sports and online sports information. FUN's strategy is to provide its cutting-edge, person-to-person gaming systems to top, licensed distribution partners in regulated markets around the world. FUN is a public company, incorporated in England and Wales, and is listed on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange under the symbol "FUN".


Survey Shows Parental Attitudes To Video Games

A new survey commissioned by VTech Electronics and performed by research firm Compas has gauged parental attitudes to video games, by interviewing Canadian parents with children aged three to eight. The survey, conducted with 500 parents by professional interviewers using computer aided telephone interviewing (CATI) between August 3-8, also found that 60 percent of respondents indicated that their eldest child in the age range currently plays games, and 81 percent of parents felt that children spent too much time playing video games.Further figures in the study, which was commissioned by a maker of educational game software, show that 76 percent of parents whose children currently do not play video games said they would buy video games that motivate children to get involved in learning, and 86 percent of parents felt that educational video games could be helpful for a child's development.Finally, the survey found that 76 percent of parents are concerned that the content of many video games is inappropriate for young children, but does not make it clear whether ESRB age ratings were taken into account when answering this question.


Video Games With Positive Aims For Kids

Monday, September 5, 2005
By Kate Shatzkin The Baltimore Sun
Video games have been blamed for making kids fat, introducing them to sex and violence, luring them away from family conversations and shortening attention spans.
Now a small number of game makers are creating games meant to encourage young players to exercise, focus, monitor their health and even relax.
A computer game called Play Attention is used in school districts around the United States to help kids with attention-deficit disorder to focus. A company called Digital Praise — whose motto is “Glorifying God Through Interactive Media” — is selling adventure games that teach players about values such as patience and trust.
Konami’s exercise game Dance Dance Revolution, which some players say has helped them lose weight, has spawned a number of imitators. A Minnesota father has developed a glucose meter called GlucoBoy — which will hook up to Nintendo’s Game Boy — to motivate young people with diabetes by rewarding proper monitoring of blood sugar with video games.
If well-designed, the games should make parents and kids happy. Sam Groves, 15, says his parents like the nonviolent theme of Dance Dance Revolution — and the fact that the game gets him moving. He has lost 15 pounds since he started playing in December.
“They’d rather me play DDR than anything else,” said the New Windsor, Md., teen.
Marc Prensky, a game designer and author who tracks “social impact games” on a Web site, says the number of titles in that category has grown from 50 in 2000 to more than 500.
“I think there was just a growing realization that this medium is a useful one for education, that it’s already educating.”



The Positive Side of Video Games

VIDEO GAMES have been blamed for making kids fat, introducing them to sex and violence, luring them away from family conversations and shortening their attention spans.
Now a small number of game makers are creating games meant to encourage young players to exercise, focus, monitor their health and even relax.
A computer game called Play Attention is used in school districts around the United States to help kids with attention-deficit disorder to focus. A company called Digital Praise — whose motto is "Glorifying God Through Interactive Media" — is selling adventure games that teach players about values such as patience and trust.
Konami's exercise game "Dance Dance Revolution," which some players say has helped them lose weight, has spawned a number of imitators. A Minnesota father has developed a glucose meter called GlucoBoy, which will hook up to Nintendo's Game Boy, to motivate young people with diabetes by rewarding proper monitoring of blood sugar with video games.
As politicians renew questions over how the video-game industry polices itself, pointing to hidden sex scenes in the latest version of Grand Theft Auto, games and devices that explicitly promote healthy behavior still make up a small part of the $10 billion-a-year video-game market. But they provide a window into what some experts say will become a significant new use of gaming technology.
If well-designed, the games should make parents and kids happy. Sam Groves, 15, says his parents like the nonviolent theme of "Dance Dance Revolution" and the fact that the game gets him moving. He has lost 15 pounds since he started playing in December.
"They'd rather me play 'DDR' than anything else," said the New Windsor, Md., teen.
Later this month, an initiative called Games for Health will hold a conference at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where health-care professionals and game creators will discuss ways to collaborate on games that help kids with cancer manage the disease and hospitals distract patients from pain.
Marc Prensky, a game designer and author who tracks "social impact games" on a Web site, says the number of titles in that category has grown from 50 in 2000 to more than 500.
"I think there was just a growing realization that this medium is a useful one for education, that it's already educating," he said.
So far, the exercise games have been most successful at crossing the bridge between entertainment and health.
More than 2.5 million copies of the home version of "Dance Dance Revolution" have been sold in the United States. Sony's new EyeToy games put players on the screen, encouraging physical activity in the virtual world.
"DDR" shows the motivational power the right video game can have, says James Gee, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy."
"Kids did not get up to play that game saying they want to lose weight," he said. "Their orientation is, 'This is a party.'"
Anita Frazier, who monitors video games for the NPD Group, says "Dance Dance Revolution" "opened up the industry's minds in terms of the kinds of games that could find an audience." But to succeed, the game has to be fun, she says.
Mike Markoe, director of student services and special education for Washington County schools in Western Maryland, says game-playing has helped students with attention problems to focus in their school work. Wearing a helmet that tracks their brain waves, students try to make objects fly across the screen or build pyramids using only their powers of concentration.
While the district has no formal data, Markoe said teachers report that students who have been playing the game for 30 minutes twice a week are paying better attention in class. As for the kids, "they do enjoy it."


Try The Newest Video Games at Game Live Events

Preview some of the newest video and computer games on the market at Game Live Events, an interactive exhibition from 1 to 6 p.m. Sept. 19 outside Finch Fieldhouse.
The event, sponsored by CMU?s Program Board, will feature a 50-screen PC and video display that allows participants to move from screen to screen, previewing the latest games for PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and PC systems.Among the approximately 20 games to be featured are ?Madden NFL ?06,? ?NCAA March Madness ?06,? ?Halo 2,? ?Delta Force ? Black Hawk Down,? ?NCAA Football ?06,? ?NBA Live ?06,? ?Need for Speed Most Wanted,? ?Jade Empire? and ?Aeon Flux.?After such a successful turnout last year, it only made sense to bring the exhibit back to campus, said Katie O?Toole, daytime and special events committee chairwoman for Program Board.?We?ve been holding the event for a few years, and it really seems to draw a big crowd that doesn?t normally come to the usual daytime events,? said O?Toole. ?It?s a lot of fun for everyone who comes.?Game Live Events, a video and computer game software marketing company based in California, tours colleges and universities around the country with the exhibition each year.The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call Program Board at 3174.


`Video Games Live' Expands North American Tour

Tuesday September 13, 2005 6:20am
Los Angeles, Ca (AP)
Renowned video game composers, Tommy Tallarico (Advent Rising, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Earthworm Jim) and Jack Wall (Jade Empire, Myst III: Exile, Splinter Cell), and Clear Channel Music Group Tuesday announced that the nationwide Video Games Live tour has been expanded after the huge success of the concert series' debut at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on July 6, 2005. Co-executive produced by Tallarico's and Wall's Mystical Stone Entertainment LLC, and Clear Channel Music Group, Video Games Live features music from the world's most popular video games performed by top orchestras and choirs across North America, combined with explosive video segments from each of the games, lasers and lights to create an exceptional, immersive entertainment experience. The Hollywood Bowl debut of Video Games Live on July 6th was attended by over 10,000 people of all ages, including renowned game designers and composers from all over the world. The internationally distinguished LA Philharmonic, along with soloists including guitarist Steve Vai, performed music from some of the world's most beloved games. The tour will kick off on October 29, in Seattle, Washington at the Paramount Theatre. Additional tour dates and cities have been added, including New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Washington, DC, Dallas, Philadelphia, Nashville, Chicago and Toronto, increasing the total number of stops on the tour from 19 to 25. "The triumphant show at the Hollywood Bowl established without a doubt that the demand for this tour is huge," said Brad Wavra, Touring Vice President for Clear Channel Music Group. "Clear Channel is committed to Video Games Live, and wants to be certain the show offers as many dates as possible to reach the broadest possible audience in North America." Video Games Live features music from some of the world's most popular games, including Mario(TM), Zelda(R), Halo(R), Metal Gear Solid(R), Warcraft(R), Myst(R), Castlevania(R), Medal of Honor(TM), Sonic(TM), Tron(C), Tomb Raider(R), Advent Rising, Headhunter, Beyond Good & Evil(TM), Splinter Cell(R), Ghost Recon(TM), Rainbow Six(R), EverQuest(R) II, Kingdom Hearts, God of War(TM) and a classic arcade game medley featuring games from Pong(R) to Donkey Kong(R). "We're excited to add more dates and new cities to the tour roster," said Wall. "The Hollywood Bowl show was such a great success and we want to bring that to as many people as possible." Tickets for the new tour dates can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com or through the newly designed and updated www.videogameslive.com. Tickets previously purchased for rescheduled dates can be returned to the point of purchase for refund. A trailer previewing the Video Games Live experience is available at www.videogameslive.com. "Video Games Live is a highly visual experience," remarked Tallarico. "Due to the new winter schedule we'll be moving the show to indoor venues, where we have 100% control over the environment. Although the show is just as amazing in outdoor facilities, the indoor locations will actually allow us more manipulation of visual elements such as lasers, video, fog and lighting as well as the audio acoustics." Video Games Live North American Tour 2005 Date City Venue, On-Sale Sat., Oct. 29 Seattle, Wash. Paramount Theatre, Sept. 17Sun., Oct. 30 Vancouver, BC Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Sept. 15Tues., Nov.1 Denver, Colo. Paramount Theatre, NowThurs., Nov. 3 Phoenix, Ariz. Dodge Theatre, Sept. 17Fri., Nov. 4 San Diego, Calif. San Diego Civic Theatre, NowSat., Nov. 5 San Jose, Calif. San Jose Civic Auditorium, Sept. 18Sun., Nov. 6 San Francisco, Nob Hill Masonic, Sept. 18Weds., Nov. 9 Kansas City, Mo. Midland Theatre, TBAThurs., Nov. 10 St. Louis, Mo. The Pageant, TBAFri., Nov. 11 Minneapolis, Minn. Orpheum Theatre, Sept. 17Sat., Nov. 12 Chicago, Ill. Chicago Theatre, TBASun., Nov. 13 Columbus, Ohio Palace Theatre, TBAMon., Nov. 14 Detroit, Mich. Opera House, TBATues., Nov. 15 Toronto, Ontario Massey Hall, Sept. 16Thurs., Nov. 17 Boston, Mass. Orpheum Theatre, TBAFri., Nov. 18 Wallingford, Conn. Chevrolet Theatre, TBASat., Nov. 19 Washington, D.C. DAR Constitution Hall, TBAMon., Nov. 21 New York, N.Y. Beacon Theatre, TBAWeds., Nov. 23 Philadelphia, Pa. Verizon Hall at Academy of Music, TBAFri., Nov. 25 Cinncinnati, Ohio Taft Theatre, TBASat., Nov. 26 Cleveland, Ohio Palace Theatre, TBAMon., Nov. 28 Nashville, Tenn. Ryman Auditorium, TBAThurs., Dec. 1 Austin, Texas Bass Concert Hall, TBAFri., Dec. 2 Dallas, Texas Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie, TBASat., Dec. 3 San Antonio, Texas Laurie Auditorium, TBA


'Violent Video Games' bill approved in California

By Humphrey Cheung
September 13, 2005 - 11:17 EST

Westlake Village (CA) - California lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 1179, which prohibits 'extremely violent' video games from being sold to minors and requires large labels to be affixed to retail boxes. Violators can be hit with up to $1000 in fines, per infraction. The bill now heads to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk and he has 30 days to either sign or veto the bill.
AB1179, formerly known as AB450, was sponsored by Speaker pro Tem Dr. Leland Yee (Democrat -San Francisco/Daly City) and passed by a 65 to 7 vote. The bill will hit retailers with up to a $1000 fine if they willingly sell violent games to minors. In addition, AB1179 requires a two inch by two inch label with a white 18 (outlined in black) to be affixed to the retail boxes of those games. Interestingly, only the retailer will be fined, and not the sales clerk. Also, if the manufacturer forgets to label the box, the store will not be fined.
In AB1179, violent games are games where the player has an option of killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being in a 'shockingly atrocious manner', but it is unclear who will determine what content will fit that definition. Yee, who is also a Child Psychologist, believes that violent games can have a dramatic and detrimental effect on children and his bill has the backing of child advocacy groups, like Common Sense Media. Peter Katz, Director of Marketing for Common Sense Media, says that their organization has been supporters of the bill from the start. He believes that there is a fundamental difference between violent video games and more passive media such as movies. "In video games, you are an active participant, pulling the trigger is different than watching it," says Katz. While the bill smacks of censorship, Katz sees things differently. He doesn't have a problem with companies creating whatever kind of games they want. "We are not for censorship, but for a more informed public," says Katz. Adam J. Keigwin, spokesperson for Leland Yee, also does not think the bill encourages censorship. "We are not asking them to be less violent. They have a first amendment right to make or produce what they want, but we just want them to sell to adults," says Keigwin. Keigwin also thinks that the current ESRB rating system 'doesn't have any teeth' and that Mature-rated games are routinely sold to children. While there have been studies showing a link between violence and video games, there are just as many studies showing no such link exists. In fact, in the American Psychological Association's monthly magazine, one month you will see an article with a psychologist saying that violent video games increase aggression, while the next month another psychologist will say exactly the opposite. Recently the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found the behavior of players subjected to 56 hours of Asheron's Call 'were not statistically different from the non-playing control group.' With the popularity of video games booming, Yee faced heavy opposition to the bill and had to scrap a previous version. When asked what one word could describe the video game lobby's opposition, "One word couldn't do it justice [to the opposition we faced]," said Keigwin. We could not reach the Entertainment Software Rating Board or the Entertainment Software Association for their opposing viewpoints.


Sony Takes Video Games Out Of Couch-Potato Realm

Who says video games restrict physical activity? Sony Computer Entertainment is rolling out "EyeToy: Play 2," in which users' movements control the action of the game.
Up to four players can run, jump, dance and wiggle through 12 new games, from Table Tennis to Secret Agent. For those gamers looking to get in shape, "EyeToy: Kinetic" hits stores in November.
"Kinetic" offers an all-in-one fitness program that includes aerobics, kick boxing, yoga, tai chi and more. Players can customize workouts based on four discipline levels, or tackle an intensive 12-week training program.
Both units are designed for the PlayStation 2 entertainment system. "Play 2" retails for $49.99, including camera, and is available now at Amazon.com, Circuit City and other retailers. "Kinetic" will retail for $29.99.


More On Julie Popovich, And Rap, And Video Games

By Brooks A. Mick, M.D. Aug. 28, 2005
Reports yesterday and an interview of four of Julie’s friends revealed some interesting information. She was using someone else’s driver’s license as an ID to get into Ledo’s Lounge. That driver’s license has been found at Hoover Reservoir, a large body of water nearby. Julie was seen with a fellow described repeatedly as “dark complected.” Certainly the finding of her borrowed ID is not a good sign, and police are searching Hoover Reservoir. It is a recreation site for many people in the summer. Small sailboats skim over the usually calm surface. Interesting, perhaps, is that it is in the northeast section of Columbus and not all that far from the Reynoldsburg home of Julie Popovich. If Julie were, by some odd chance, staging her own disappearance, she wouldn’t have used someone else’s ID to plant. Which brings us back to the “dark complected stranger.” Is this another example of political correctness carried too far? Just how dark was this dark complection? Perhaps he was one of the Beach Boys who had spent the past two months riding the surf at Hoover Reservoir? Just kidding, folks. There’s no surf there. Or was he more NATURALLY dark? Perhaps Hispanic? Perhaps, in today’s terminology, African-American? Heck, perhaps really African? I am sure there are students from Ghana and elsewhere in Africa around Ohio State University. So if we keep using euphemisms such as “dark complected,” how are the people around Columbus supposed to know whom to keep an eye peeled for? All of which brings me to rap music and video games. I use the term “music” loosely, as their isn’t any significant melody involved. I note photos of Joran van der Sloot doing the funny hand gesture bit resembling those frequently seen in “music” videos of rappers. I note that rap music frequently glorifies beating and sexually abusing and even killing women. I note that Grand Theft Auto and its followups make light of stealing and maiming and killing. In fact, to “win” at these games, one has to become adept at such antisocial behavior. The number of bizarre disappearances and murders we have seen in recent months could seem so high because of several reasons: 1) Perhaps just more reporting. Or 2) Perhaps the incidence of such is actually increasing. If actually increasing, why? Could the coarsening of society have anything to do with it? Could the glorification of such anti-social behavior have made it more acceptable? Is the increased reporting encouraging similar copy-cat behavior? If Tupac were not already caput, which is, fittingly, Tupac spelled backward, then we might blame him for at least part of the coarsening of society. There is no gain in blaming dead rappers, however, any more than there is gain in blaming Julie Popovich. However, there might be gain from recognizing past bad, dangerous, destructive behavior and trying to prevent future disappearances and deaths. How about everybody stop purchasing rap music and violent video games? If there is no profit in it, they’ll stop selling it and be forced into more beneficial occupations. Perhaps garbage collecting, since they are creating so much garbage now. Ludacris and Fitty-cent could be consigned to the garbage heap where they belong. I grieve for the abused and murdered women. I have only contempt for those who glorify such treatment of women. One Natalee Holloway or one Julie Popovich is one too many. How many more rapes and murders will it take before we stop treating those who glorify rapes and murderers as role models? Yeah, sure, I know much of this is based on incomplete information and a fair amount of supposition. Do you have a better idea?


Pinball Wizard

BY JON STEVENS, Staff writer
WAYNESBURG – In the world of pinball machine players, Dominic Denicola is a wizard.
As The Who's Pete Townshend wrote in 1976:
"He stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers, always playing clean."
No better words describe the 16-year-old from Waynesburg, who captured second place in the junior division at the World Pinball Championships Aug. 11-14 in Carnegie.
"It's all a matter of hand-eye coordination," said Denicola, who honed his skills more by playing video and computer games than by practicing on a pinball machine.
"No, we don't have a pinball machine at our house," he said, noting the cost of a new pinball machine can range from $4,000 to $6,000.
The tournament was sanctioned by Professional Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) and included six different levels. Classes A, B and C were for the top players in these groups. "A" class is for the top players in the world and the pinball machines are set for the most difficult scoring.
The classic division is for those interested in playing on machines manufactured before 1985 and the senior division was for players older than 50.
Denicola, who could have chosen to enter either A, B or C, chose the junior division for players 16 and younger.
"I didn't think I was good enough to be in the top three divisions, but I am considering entering the "C" division next year," he said.
So, how did he get so good without having a pinball machine in his basement?
"We used to live in Philadelphia and there were arcades everywhere," said Denicola's father, Dominic, who by the way, also entered the tournament and placed tied for 52nd in the "B" class.
"Also, when we would take vacations, like to the Jersey shore, there would be machines Dominic could play," the elder Denicola said.
"I got in a little practice this summer at Wildwood (New Jersey), but you don't know what machines you will be playing at the tournament," Denicola said.
The first few days of the tournament were set aside for qualifying. Each player is assigned a set of pinball machines within their respective divisions. They play the machines to receive points based in their overall play. Each day the points are calculated and the player positions are set for the final rounds. Only the top eight within the junior divisions can move on to the final rounds.
On Aug. 13, the next to the last day of the tournament, Denicola was in sixth place but by that evening, he had moved into the fourth spot.
On the tournament's last day, Denicola was tied for fifth place and more competitors were arriving to qualify. At noon, he remained tied for fifth,
"Me and the other player flipped a coin to decide who would be in fourth place. I won the fourth spot for the final rounds," he said.
The final play was on two difficult machines, Hurricane and Tales of Arabian Knights. Denicola posted a top score of 2,641,490 to be tied for second place, which meant he needed to play the same machine to settle the tiebreaker with another player.
He posted a final score of 6,883,820 to take overall second spot and the second-place prize.
Bernard Denicola exposed his son to playing pinball when he was 7 years old.
"Pinball has become more and more difficult due to the new machines that play faster than machines from the past," Bernard Denicola said.
Denicola, who will be a junior at Waynesburg Central High School this fall, runs cross country and track at Waynesburg. "I think participating in sports has helped me," he said.
"You have to remember," his father said, "this was big-time tournament. "There was a $33,000 purse with $10,000 going to the top player who was from Sweden in class "A." That guy was on a machine for two hours for one game. I think he put up a score of a trillion," Bernard Denicola said.
For his second place finish in the junior division, Denicola won a plaque and $50.
"Finishing second in the juniors was not bad, considering there were 390 players who had entered the tournament," Denicola said.


Author Argues That Video Games and Reality TV Are Beneficial

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
• Author: Steven Johnson.• Publisher: Riverhead Books.• Pages: 238.• Price: $23.95.
By Julie Reed
Associated Press
Couch potatoes and video game junkies, rejoice! You have a new messiah in Steven Johnson, author of "Everything Bad Is Good for You."
It's Johnson's view that popular media such as reality TV and Xbox games are making us smarter -- a trend he calls the Sleeper Curve, named for the scene in Woody Allen's film "Sleeper" in which scientists in 2173 "are astounded that 20th-century society failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge."
Johnson's main point is that "the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all." He maintains that several forces are at work in pop culture: underlying changes in technology that enable new kinds of entertainment, new forms of online communications that cultivate audience commentary, changes in the economics of the culture industry that encourage repeat viewing and deep-seated appetites in the human brain that seek out reward and intellectual challenge.
This last example he applies to his defense of video games. A strong case can be made, he says, that the power of these games to captivate lies in their ability to tap into the brain's natural reward circuitry.
"In the game world, reward is everywhere. The universe is literally teeming with objects that deliver very clearly articulated rewards: more life, access to new levels, new equipment, new spells. . . . No other form of entertainment offers that cocktail of reward and exploration: we don't 'explore' movies or television or music in anything but the most figurative sense of the word."
Johnson admires the way people think when they play video games; the constant decision-making, choosing and prioritizing are all intellectual benefits that help the player learn how to think. He says the snap judgments and long-term strategy that complex video games require are integral components of the "collateral learning" that goes on during play.
He compares video games to word problems, saying that "both are good for the mind on some fundamental level: They teach abstract skills in probability, in pattern recognition, in understanding causal relationships that can be applied in countless situations, both personal and professional." Johnson praises the way in which the mind has to work during game play -- most especially how the games encourage "finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order."
Television shows with multiple plot lines (for example, "24") and those that require the viewer to supply information deliberately left out or made obscure ("Lost") also garner Johnson's praise for prodding the brain to function in a more complex manner. He provides graphs to illustrate the rising plot intricacies of TV shows, from "Hill Street Blues" (credited with beginning the multiple-thread trend in 1981) to "The Sopranos."
Johnson says that modern TV-watchers derive pleasure from filling in the details on shows such as "The West Wing," and he applauds the high level of technical dialogue on the likes of "ER." He discusses the "layering" of sitcoms ("Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons"), saying that their pop-culture references and crisscrossing plot lines enable these shows to "retain both a broad appeal and the edgy allure of cult classics."
He has positive things to say about reality TV, too. He likes how the genre explores social geography, saying that " 'The Apprentice' may not be the smartest show in the history of television, but it nonetheless forces you to think while you watch it, to work through the social logic of the universe it creates on the screen. . . . People didn't gather at the water cooler to second-guess the losing strategy on last night's 'Battle of the Network Stars,' but they'll spend weeks debating the tactical decisions and personality tics of 'Apprentice' contestants."
Johnson is at his best and most convincing in his discussions of TV and video games; he devotes shorter chapters to the Internet and to films. Part 2 of the book, in which he delves into IQ theory, reads like a dissertation, and his point that the dumbing-down of popular culture is a myth is drummed home repeatedly. If the public has indeed become smarter, shouldn't we have gotten the gist the first 10 times Johnson spelled it out?
But "Everything Bad is Good for You" is an engaging read and one that is sure to provoke lively debate among pop-culture mavens


Fun and Games Transform Beyond the Playing Field

NCAA 2006 Cover Courtesy of Aaron Sloan
DevilsDigest.com Date: Aug 28, 2005
For a college football player, there is much fame and notoriety to be gained every Saturday between the lines. Through the growing popularity of video games, that recognition has gone beyond those boundaries and has significantly increased. ASU players, much like their counterparts around the nation, are starring in the NCAA 2006 game. The Sun Devil players find themselves playing the game off the field too, and enjoy the surreal experience of playing themselves on the TV screen.
Derek Hagan is already enjoying significant pre-season accolades such as being on the Biletnikoff Award watch list. The NCAA 2006 game seems to agree with the college football experts, as they list the Arizona State senior as the overall top rated receiver in the game and his catching abilities in the video game are second only to conference rival Mike Haas of Oregon State. “I played the game and I won the Heisman (Trophy)!” exclaimed Hagan. “I went through the whole presentation. I had over 2,000 yards receiving and broke all kinds of records. This game is perfect as long as I win the Heisman and Sam Keller wins the quarterback of year.” During our interview, the wide receiver got heckled by linebacker Jamar Williams who doesn’t believe that his teammate has much to brag about, to which Hagan replies: “We can set up a tournament here and I will beat everyone!” Hagan admitted that while in high school all he was dreaming about in football terms, was to play in a Division I school. Now that he has accomplished that, being the top player in his position on one of the most popular sports video games just blows his mind. “When I came here as a freshman and I saw myself on a video game I’m like ‘Oh my God!’ Here I am taking out Shaun McDonald out of the game and putting myself in the game as the #1 wide receiver (laughs).” “Derek Hagan is the best receiver in the game, but I can guard him on the video game,” said cornerback R.J. Oliver. “I look good in the game, especially in beginning because I’m one of the captains (laughs). Just walking up there with my arm sleeve...” Oliver claimed that the thrill of being featured on a video game has started to diminish with each year of play. “The first couple of years you’re excited that you’re on the video game,” he stated. “But after that it’s no big deal. It’s weird because they list me as a fourth year player, and I’m a sixth-year senior (laughs).” Jamar Williams loves to play the 2006 game, but has one complaint about it. “They got me as the third fastest linebacker on the team and I think I’m the fastest,” he claimed. “They did me wrong a little bit. But overall it’s fun to play yourself. I’m just so happy to have the privilege of representing my school on that game.” He agreed that the whole experience does humble oneself when you realize how far you have come from being a high school player who was hoping just for a shot at a college scholarship. Rudy Burgess isn’t concerned about his somewhat underrated speed on the game. “I’m a 92 (out of a 100) but that’s OK,” he said. “I just boost my attributes on my game to bring it up to speed. It’s all fun.” Much like his teammates he’s amazed at the fact that he gets to play himself on a video game, as do many others across the country. “I think it’s crazy knowing that I’m playing a video game knowing I’ll be on there,” he remarked. “My friends call me up and say ‘yeah, we played you on the game.’ It’s crazy.”

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