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Unlock Animal Visions, Camouflage Secrets through Video Games

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Games of change festival
New video games are increasingly seeking to target issues of social injustice in a user-friendly interface . VOA
  • Everyone who plays “Where is that Nightjar” is contributing to a study of animal vision
  • People could choose to play as a trichromat or a dichromat, and they had just 30 seconds to try to find each camouflaged bird
  • The Exeter Sensory Ecology Group has also developed games to study camouflage in other animals, like crabs and moths

USA, June 18, 2017: Like many online video games, the one developed by scientists at the University of Exeter challenges players to quickly find hidden objects, but with a twist. They’re not looking for gold or swords or magical mirrors in an imaginary universe, but for birds in real photos. And everyone who plays “Where is that Nightjar” is contributing to a study of animal vision.

Nightjars are ground-nesting birds, whose mottled feathers help them disappear into the fallen leaves and twigs where they lay their eggs. They are hunted by a variety of predators and rely on their camouflage for their survival.

Some predators, such as mongooses, are color-blind and cannot see reds and greens. They are called dichromats. Others, like baboons and humans, are trichromats, and can see a wider range of colors. Researchers wanted to know how color vision affected an animal’s ability to find camouflaged prey.

Animal visions
A side-by-side comparison of the same images, seen as a trichromat (left) and a dichromat (right). VOA

“A huge number of mammals are dichromats,” ecologist Jolyon Troscianko explains. “But it does not take a huge evolutionary leap to develop this third color channel. So it is surprising that this has not happened more often in nature, suggesting there could be some advantage to being a dichromat.”

The game uses actual photos of nightjars, manipulated so the images appear as they would through the eyes of a dichromat predator, and also as we would see them. People could choose to play as a trichromat or a dichromat, and they had just 30 seconds to try to find each camouflaged bird.

After 30,000 volunteers played the game, the researchers got some surprising results, published in Behavioural Ecology.

Scientists assumed that dichromats, which are better at differentiating between light and shadow, would be better at finding camouflaged prey. But the trichromat competitors found the birds and their eggs faster, at first. Troscianko says as the game progressed, the dichromats improved faster, and were performing equally well by the end of the game.

“That shows that there is a huge element of learning, which has previously been largely ignored in the importance of camouflage. But if a predator in the wild is learning to try to find one type of prey, one type of camouflage faster than another, that could actually change the whole dynamics of an ecosystem where there is now a disadvantage to having a camouflage type that is easily learned by predators over time.”

The Exeter Sensory Ecology Group has also developed games to study camouflage in other animals, like crabs and moths. (VOA)

 

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Playing video games can help boost memory, says research

During the test of gamers and non-gamers, the gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas relevant to learning

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Video games help boost memory
Video games help boost memory. Pixabay
  • Researchers have found that playing video games can help boost memory in the young as well as in the elderly
  • The gamers performed significantly better during the test of gamers and non-gamers
  • The gamers also showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas relevant to learning

London, October 2, 2017: Tired of watching your child play video games? Instead, join them, as researchers have found that playing video games can help boost memory in the young as well as in the elderly.

“Our study shows that gamers are better in analysing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge, and to categorise facts — especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said lead author Sabrina Schenk from Ruhr-Universität, Bochum, Germany.

During the test of gamers and non-gamers, the gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas relevant to learning.

This kind of learning is linked to an increased activity in the hippocampus — a brain region that plays a key role in learning and memory.

“We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus. That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe, we can treat that with video games in the future,” Schenk added.

Both teams did the so-called weather prediction task, a well-established test to investigate the learning of probabilities. The researchers simultaneously recorded the brain activity of the participants via magnetic resonance imaging.

Also read: ‘Games of Change’ Festival at New York Gives Gamers a Reality Check by Introducing Video Games based on Social and Civic Issues

The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong.

They gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction.

The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain.

After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.

Also, the gamers were notably better in combining the cue cards with the weather predictions than the control group. (IANS)

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‘Games of Change’ Festival at New York Gives Gamers a Reality Check by Introducing Video Games based on Social and Civic Issues

The Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics and set to herald the beginning of a new trend in the gaming world

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Games of change festival
New video games are increasingly seeking to target issues of social injustice in a user-friendly interface . VOA

New York, August 8, 2017: You’re in Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has just struck your village and you must rescue the survivors. This is “After Days,” a video game based on the real-life Nepal earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people in 2015.

Minseok Do was showing the game at the recent Games for Change festival in New York City. The games on display were a far cry from “Mario Brothers” and “Call of Duty.” These developers featured titles that tackled civic and social issues.

Public consciousness about civic and social issues has long been raised by the news and entertainment industries in the United States and other parts of the world, and now video game creators are making their own statements and hoping to reach the younger digital generation in the process.

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In “After Days,” players take on the role of Ahsha, a young Nepalese woman who attempts to rescue her neighbors in the aftermath of the massive earthquake.

“Other media, such as novels and movies, require consumers to use their imagination to understand characters’ emotions,” said Do, CEO of GamBridzy. “Games have players be in characters’ shoes by letting them command and control. It is, in my opinion, the most powerful platform.”

Video games draw increasing attention from children and adults alike.
The intent of these games is to expose children to the ‘real issues of the world. Pixabay

In the game, players carry out various missions like transporting injured victims in stretchers and coordinating with rescue teams to restore critical infrastructure.

The first episode is set in Sindhupalchok, one of the hardest-hit districts of the earthquake in Nepal.

“Some say it will take about 10 years to complete all the restoration, but international attention is not focused on this, and it is important that we show our interest and support,” said Do. Twenty percent of proceeds from game sales will go toward rebuilding efforts.

Elin Festøy, a producer from Norway, also was in New York to promote her game.

“We really wanted to create attention and awareness around children born of war … children being born of the most hated soldiers in the world,” said Festøy.

She and her team created “My Child Lebensborn,” a mobile game in which players are the caretakers of World War Two-era children from the Lebensborn project, an attempt by the Nazi regime to create an Aryan “master race.”

Lebensborn involved child kidnappings as well as anonymous births by unwed mothers in and outside of Germany, with their offspring adopted by German families. After the war, many Lebensborn children faced prejudice and discrimination, even from their own mothers.

“It’s about being able to see children as children and not as symbols of [the] enemy,” said Festøy.

“My Child Lebensborn” is targeted at players aged 13 and up. Recognizing that 13-year-olds might not exactly run to play the game, one of the team’s goals includes creating a bundle for schools that includes both the game and an accompanying film on the Lebensborn project.

Video games at the Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics. Indeed, they were a vehicle for discussion and dialogue.

“The problem in a lot of developing countries is that people do not talk about issues. People do not want to share their problems out of embarrassment,” said Dr. Ilmana Fasih, a director at ZMQ.

The New Delhi-based consulting company developed “YourStoryTeller,” a mobile app that is less video game than a digital narrative.

User-contributed stories are transformed into comic strips. Each week, a new story addresses women’s issues in India, a country where patriarchal attitudes are common.

In one example, a young woman’s studies are disrupted for an arranged marriage that takes her from India to Canada, where she is physically abused by her new husband.

Fasih acknowledged the stories are definitely not of the Disney fairytale variety, and they definitely have a point of view.

“Kids grow up watching those stories. We want kids to grow up watching these stories where there are struggles,” said Fasih. “A young boy is able to understand what are the struggles that his mom, his sisters go through. That is probably one of the best ways to defeat patriarchy.” (VOA)

 

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Children’s Love of Video Games likely to Help Treat Vision Problems, especially Amblyopia

Amblyopia is usually treatable, but if left untreated it can affect a child's reading and fine motor skills, which can negatively impact academic success and self-esteem

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FILE - A girl's eyes are examined March 8, 2012. VOA

Nov 18, 2016: Amblyopia is a Greek word that means “blunt vision.” It’s often called “lazy eye,” and is one of the most common vision problems in children.

Amblyopia is usually treatable, but if left untreated it can affect a child’s reading and fine motor skills, which can negatively impact academic success and self-esteem. Untreated amblyopia can also lead to blindness.

Amblyopia not only has deficits in vision, but it causes deficits in 3-D-depth perception, reading and fine motor skills. Click To Tweet

With amblyopia, one eye sends stronger electrical signals to the brain than the other one does. If untreated, the pathways the weaker eye uses to send signals can weaken further or fail to develop.

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Doctors commonly treat the condition with a patch over the strong eye to force the weak eye to take over and develop the pathways to the brain. But this treatment may not make the eyes work together. A child may end up using one eye for distance vision and the other for seeing close up.

Researchers at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas, wanted to see if they could improve on the standard treatment given to children with this condition.

“Amblyopia not only has deficits in vision, but it causes deficits in 3-D-depth perception, reading and fine motor skills,” said Dr. Krista Kelly, who led the study.

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These deficits can last through adulthood. Without three-dimensional vision, a person’s ability to drive a car, read textbooks and generally see the world can remain impaired.

Game on iPad

Researchers gave children with amblyopia an iPad and a pair of glasses, and had them play a specially developed video game. The children ranged in age from 4 to 10 years old. The researchers also supplied glasses that changed the way the children saw things. The kids had to work the weaker eye harder in order to play the game, which also forced the children to work both eyes together.

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Children with amblyopia in another group were given only eye patches. After two weeks, Kelly said, both groups were evaluated.

Kelly said the improvement between the two groups was pronounced. “We found that at the two-week visit, children who had the iPad game improved much more than children who patched.”

The children who played the iPad games had improved so much that the researchers gave the iPad and the game to both groups of children. After two more weeks, with both children playing the game, those who had started out in the eye patch group had caught up to the other group.

Kelly now wants to add new games, or even videos, and have the children play the games or watch the videos for more than four weeks. (VOA)

The study appeared in JAMA Opthalmology.