That’s the message in a controversial new book that got more buzz at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show than most of the games on display: Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (Riverhead Books, 2005).
Everyone – from developers on the show floor to the president of the Electronic Software Association – was quoting the book, which asserts that games have become incredibly sophisticated forms of entertainment, requiring complex analytical skills at the same time they hone our hand-eye coordination.
Johnson’s arguments are persuasive, and games all over the show floor demonstrated what he was talking about. Sony was showing off "EyeToy Kinetic," a new game for its EyeToy camera coming out this fall. It’s a workout disguised as a video game. Like earlier EyeToy titles, you move in front of the camera to make things happen on screen. It’s always been an active way to play.
But "Kinetic" takes that to the next level, making a successful gaming session also work out to be the equivalent of a successful kickboxing workout. Sony says it’s inspired by aerobics, tai chi, yoga and some styles of dance and kickboxing; regardless of where it comes from, it’s guaranteed to make you sweat, and it’s a direct contradiction to the idea of gamers as sedentary couch potatoes.
Same goes for Konami’s new fall "Karaoke Revolution" installment, tentatively called "Karaoke Revolution Party," which allows you to use a "Dance Dance Revolution" pad on the floor to dance and sing at the same time. (As if just singing – or just dancing – wasn’t challenging enough.) The "Dance Dance" series has been called out before as a game that always results in a workout, with reports nationwide of people losing weight while they play.
But Johnson said those superficial benefits aren’t the end of the story.
"The virtues of gaming run far deeper than hand-eye coordination," he writes. "When I read these ostensibly positive accounts of video games, they strike me as the equivalent of writing a story about the merits of the great novels and focusing on how reading them can improve your spelling."
While most reports decry how games’ morals have fallen – despite the fact that the vast majority of best-selling games involve no violence or sex whatsoever – that’s not a good indicator of whether they’re good for us, he argues.
"Today’s popular culture may not be showing us the righteous path," he writes, "but it is making us smarter."
Games do that by teaching complex concepts and encouraging us to learn them by tapping into the way the brain senses progress and rewards, he argues, using the example of a 7-year-old relative whom he introduced to Electronic Arts’ enormously popular "SimCity" game.
He showed the boy some of the city he had built in the game and the screens that control everything available to the residents and businesses he’d enticed into his virtual landscape.
At one point, he complained that one of his industrial districts was failing. The boy piped up and immediately suggested that the industrial tax rate was too high, and should be lowered.
Put the child in an urban economics class and he’d fall asleep immediately, Johnson said. But in just a few minutes of playing the game, he’d gotten the idea that high taxes in industrial areas can discourage development.
Plenty of games on the expo floor showed off just those kinds of complex concepts. It all means more chances for you to use your brain. And when it comes down to it, that’s what Johnson’s book and his argument are all about. Even if you don’t agree with the content of some of the video games on the market, there’s one thing you can never call them: simple.
© 2005, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.personalized lush, fake lashes. In January, Shu Uemura opened one of a handful of his famous Toyko Lash Bars inside Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island where there are just as many varieties of eyelashes as there are of vodka at any old bar.
But at this bar, under the bright Neiman Marcus lights, makeup artists create customized looks on an eye-by-eye basis. Based on eye shape, occasion and personal taste, the client can choose from feathery, elongated and eccentric or just something naturally beautiful.
Post makeup, stunted eyelashes can easily be turned up a few notches, and with more than 30 styles of lashes to mull over, there is something for every eye. And the pros are not only there to apply these tricky little guys but will gladly educate clients on how to do it themselves. But is it worth shelling over $15 to $20 for lashes and lash glue? Well, I’d say, yeah, lashes really make a difference.
© 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.