By Kyle Starr

Good Sudoku and The Grid

August 01, 2020

Brendon Bigley, writing at his new site, Wavelengths:

After playing daily for about a week after its release, I’ve noticed Good Sudoku activating the same brain-space as roguelikes in the vein of Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. These are games meant to be played hundreds of times, and for thousands of hours. After years of playing Spelunky I immediately go into auto-pilot when starting a new run because I’ve seen so many permutations of the level generation I can’t help but feel as though surprise is unlikely. But that comfort with such a hostile environment has come from thousands of runs. I’ve died in Spelunky more times than I can count, and each death brings with it a small lesson for survival in future attempts. At this point, my head is crammed so full of strategies and techniques and possibilities that I feel more equipped than ever to survive the next run. I mean I probably won’t… but it’s nice to feel confident sometimes!!

I haven’t played Good Sudoku, nor Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, but I know enough about vanilla sudoku and these roguelikes to understand that Bigley’s observation is striking. I’m having of those, “How didn’t I see this before?” moments.

To the uninitiated or uninterested, sudoku puzzles all look the same — a 9x9 grid with numbers sprinkled about. How many variations could there be? How is sudoku not a solved game? But the number of variations of sudoku puzzles is staggering — far more than any human could experience in their lifetime. Nigh-endless possibilities within a consistent environment. And what is the procedurally generated experience of a roguelike if not nigh-endless possibilities within a consistent environment?

Thanks to Bigley, it’s now hard to think of roguelikes and procedural generation as something made possible with today’s technology, but something conceived from a 9x9 grid.

EndeavorRx: First Video Game Approved by FDA

June 18, 2020

Rebecca Robbins, reporting for STAT:

The game, known as EndeavorRx and developed by Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs, can now be marketed as a way to improve attention function in kids with ADHD as measured by computerized testing. Physicians can prescribe it to children between the ages of 8 and 12 who have an ADHD diagnosis and have demonstrated an issue with attention.

The FDA’s move is a landmark decision in the emerging digital therapeutics sector: In addition to being the first game to be marketed as a therapy for any type of condition, EndeavorRx is the first digital therapeutic meant to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, the FDA’s announcement said.

The game sends players through landscapes like a molten lava river and an icy winter wonderland, rewarding them with stars and points as they finish tasks. Akili sees the video game as a delivery system for targeted algorithms that can activate and strengthen certain neural networks in the brain. It’s more ambitious than the many digital health apps and software programs that aim to help patients manage medical conditions with education, tips, and reminders — and it’s long been seen as a crucial test case for the potential of the sector.

'We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works'

April 13, 2020

Ashley Fetters, writing for The Atlantic, with a quote from Nicole Ellison of School of Information at the University of Michigan:

The runaway success of the online Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing also speaks to the appeal of unfamiliar virtual spaces. In Animal Crossing, players can interact with other online players rather than just the characters created by the game, and players who are friends in the physical world can link up in the game and host one another virtually on their “islands.” Crucially, in spaces like this, the norms and communication patterns of face-to-face interaction don’t exist. “We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works,” Ellison said. She added that she wouldn’t be surprised if virtual-reality experiences also become more popular for much the same reason: They can offer people the ability to roam around and interact in unstructured ways, but with just enough novelty to avoid unfavorable comparisons with face-to-face interactions.

The most appealing multiplayer experiences I’ve had have been those that skirt normal real-life situations for something novel or limited.

Animal Crossing’s success stems from its low barrier to entry, simple obstacles, and limitless opportunity. Quite simply, it’s a sandbox. The hook is personalizing and collecting; both of which, by their very nature, are greatly enhanced by social interaction. And for a digital world, there’s no easier social interaction than digital socialization — i.e. social networks.

Social networks are asynchronous; not every post requires the attention of all, nor are posts layered on top of one another vying for attention; and they don’t require speaking, listening, or being bound to a location. Social networks are as individual as they are communal. For a game that’s being experienced in real-time in both hemispheres in every time zone, there’s an endless amount of creativity, exploration, and fun to be shared wherever and whenever you are.

Other novel multiplayer experiences I’ve had include puzzle solving The Witness and chirping in Journey.

'Listen to me, motherfucker, listen'

March 30, 2020

An excerpt from Jeff Tweedy’s excellent memoir:

I would feel guilty. I’d sit in group sessions and listen to other patients talk about their lives, and what they’d endured was beyond anything I could imagine. They came from homes where they never felt safe; being physically and emotionally abused was just a day-to-day reality. Food was scarce, hope was scarcer, and it was a toss-up whether there was more danger outside or inside. One guy told us about seeing his father murder his mother when he was nine and that he had his first taste of alcohol that night because his father forced him to drink whiskey, thinking it would make him forget what he’d seen. Hearing a story like that made me ashamed of how little I had had to survive and how much pain I’d derived from so much less actual trauma. What was I gonna say when the group got to me? “Um … I cry a lot. I get scared sometimes. I have headaches, and it makes it hard to make music.” That was the worst of it. I was out of my league.

One time, after a group session, a few of us were in the smoking room and I confided to them, “I feel like I shouldn’t even open my mouth. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I think my situation compares.

This big black guy, who towered over me, turned around and started shouting at me. “What the fuck is that shit? Shut the fuck up! We all suffer the same, motherfucker!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, backing away. “I didn’t mean—”

“Listen to me, motherfucker, listen.” Getting right up in my face. “Mine ain’t about yours. And yours ain’t about mine. We all suffer the same. You don’t get to decide what hurts you. You just hurt. Let me say my shit, and you say your shit, and I’ll be there for you. Okay?

It set me straight. I still think it’s one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. I was trying to put things in perspective by pretending I had no perspective, by denying my own feelings. It’s always going to be important to acknowledge someone else’s pain, but denying your own pain doesn’t do that. “It just makes their pain relative to yours, like a yardstick to measure against. It’s a waste of pain. After that I started listening more and I started feeling again.

This knocked me back. Wow.