Here's an article about how children's time spent playing is shrinking. The information about lowering creativity scores since 1984 is interesting. There's a lot of arm chair philosophizing going on in the article, though. And the suggestion to just let children play all day with no structure and no curriculum seems unwarranted to me. But it's an interesting read nonetheless.
Link: The Play Deficit by Peter Gray
Lisa Stevens, the CEO of Paizo, put out a post on Facebook announcing the arrival of the Pathfinder 2.0 books to their warehouse. In true Paizo style she did it wielding a goblin "dogslicer" and singing a new goblin tune. Goblins are the comedic mascots of the Pathfinder game. They love to sing songs and cause all sorts of mischief. They call all small creatures "dogs" and all large creatures "horses". They are all about collecting junk and building things out of it (which are always a die roll away from falling to pieces in the middle of combat or, in Starfinder, exploding). With the release of Pathfinder 2.0 they have graduated to become a full-fledged playable core race for PC characters in the new core rulebook.
Paizo has been working for years on trying to make all people feel represented and included within their game products. Here's a nice post they just put up as Pride Month draws to a close.
We here at Paizo strongly feel that gaming is for everyone, and staff and contributors have always worked hard to include a diverse cast of characters in our works to represent the reality of the gaming community. For this blog, I asked our staff and contributors to share some of their experiences being nerdy and queer, and we’re happy to share these voices and points of view from some of our community in their own words. Read along and happy Pride Month to everyone!
Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (Chapter 15: Rough and Tumble Play: The Brain Sources of Joy) by Jaak Panksepp
Jaak Panksepp (1943-2017) was a pioneering scientist in the neuroscience behind emotions in humans and animals. In his book Affective Neuroscience, he explained the science behind what exactly is going on in our brains when we feel various emotions. The book is cold, hard science written by an expert practicing scientist in the field. That means the book is not an easy read and its main purpose is to be used as a university textbook. This is not a science book written for popular audiences. I was mainly interested in one chapter within this book, as I had heard it referred to at various times by other people discussing the phenomena of mammalian play. Panksepp is the scientist who conclusively demonstrated that mammal brains have a separate PLAY circuit in them, and I wanted to get the information on that research straight from the source.
Panksepp lays out his evidence for a ludic brain circuit in chapter 15 of his book. He used rats to study play. By doing various brain experiments on them where he damaged various parts of their brain (I hope this is not allowed currently under modern ethical research standards), or administered various chemicals, he was able to figure out where in the brain play urges come from in mammals. Rats, and all mammals, love to play, particularly when they are younger. The only type of play rats show is, of course, rough-and-tumble play (abbreviated RAT play in the chapter). RAT play is easily observable and quantifiable in rat interactions and thus was a perfect subject for Panksepp’s investigations. A side note is that Panksepp found that rats also laugh, and that they do it a lot while they are playing. Humans obviously have more forms of play than just RAT play, due to our more advanced brains. But Panksepp is careful not to overstep the bounds of his actual experimental results with rats when discussing how play probably works in the brains of humans. He admits that he can not experimentally show where these alternate forms of human play come from in the human brain itself, but he does say his own best guess would be that humans also have the one PLAY circuit in their brains, just like rats and the other mammals do, and that those ludic impulses that it produces are being modified by the reasoning centers of the brain. He does not think that human brains have separate play circuits in the brain for different types of play since such a configuration would seem to be unnecessary. Regardless of his conjecture in this area, there are some interesting things he managed to determine experimentally about play.
Here's a great article about the problems inherent in the way modern software programming is done and the possible solutions to those problems. The issue is basically that the code is so complex and abstracted from the actual requirements of the system that the software is usually rife with bugs due to the coders not being able to see the forest for the trees. The call is for programming to become basically a WYSIWYG process like word processing has become.
Link: The Atlantic
Here's a fascinating science discovery about humanity's oldest companion. Dogs have been found to have two extra eye muscles that their ancestors, gray wolves, don't have. These eye muscles allow them to shape their eyes into the well-known sad puppy dog stare when desiring human attention. The muscles allow dogs to widen their eyes and raise their inner eyebrow area. These muscles appear to exist for the sole purpose of generating human connection. It makes them appear more like human babies in their facial appearance and people usually describe the look as meaning that the dog must be sad. The dogs use them when they desire human eye contact. Dogs will turn to humans and make eye contact when they are faced with a problem they can't solve. Wolves will not. Dogs closest to their wolf ancestors in form, like Siberian Huskies, only have one of the muscles developed. Wolves do have some sparse muscle fibers, that have not developed into full blown muscles, where dogs have these muscles. So wolves can not generate the full expression, even if they wanted to. Scientists believe these dog muscles evolved through selection pressures unwittingly exerted by humans. Dogs that could appear the most expressive facially were selected for preferential treatment by humans, which meant that overall these dogs were cared for better and thus had better chances at healthy offspring. There are only two other animal groups that have these muscles besides dogs and humans: apes and horses. In horses, however, the muscles do not achieve the same look that they do in the other three animal groups due to horse facial structure.
Rise of the Dungeon Master, written by David Kushner and illustrated by Koren Shadmi, is a graphic novel introduction to the history of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s meant to be informative to someone who has no previous knowledge of the history of the game. As such it might be a good book to hand out to a brand-new player in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. It would depend on the person though. The art is in black and white comic style and is very accessible. The story on the other hand is oddly done. The book is written in second person as if the reader were a character in various scenes of D&D history.
In chapter one, the reader is a con attendee in Lake Geneva in 2007. The reader is invited by Gary Gygax to play a game with him. The game of course is D&D and the reader is then given an introduction into what the game is. In the second chapter, the reader becomes Gary Gygax, following him from his early childhood years up through his early adulthood and his creation of the wargame Chainmail. Chainmail included fantasy creatures as playable soldiers in a medieval setting. In chapter three, the reader becomes Dave Arneson. The chapter follows Arneson in his early 20s as he meets Gary Gygax and then subsequently modifies the Chainmail system to create a game with fantasy creatures in a dungeon being fought by the players who control just one hero which levels up as he or she gains experience. In chapter four the reader once again becomes Gygax as he creates Dungeons and Dragons out of Arneson’s concepts and then forms TSR to sell the game. In chapter five the reader becomes Dave Arneson again, followed by several creators of early computer games based off D&D, from Will Crowther to Richard Garriot. In chapter six, the reader is at first William Dear, the detective who started the D&D satanic panic in the 80s. Then the chapter shifts and follows the satanic panic itself. In chapter seven, the reader first follows Gygax as he grows the D&D brand. Then the persepctive changes again to Arneson as he battles legally for credit in the creation of D&D, becomes a teacher at Full Sail in Florida, and sells off his remaining stake in TSR. In chapter eight, the reader becomes a 70s teenager who grows up to have a career in the gaming industry. The chapter covers Wizards of the Coast buying TSR and then releasing third edition and fourth edition. Chapter nine ends the book by covering the deaths of Arneson and Gygax, as well as the release of 5th edition D&D.
All told the book felt a bit disjointed to me, due to its approach of a changing second person perspective. It does provide a general overview of the history of D&D in a way that’s very accessible. There is a small amount of adult language in the book and so parents should be aware of that if they are looking to get the book for their children to read. If it weren’t for those couple of uses of adult language the book would be perfectly useful in an elementary school library’s collection, as it is written on a level that children of about third grade and up could easily understand. Due to that low level of content complexity, the book may feel rather juvenile to an adult reader at times. Thus, the book ends up in a rather weird hybrid situation of child-level complexity mixed with some minor adult content.
The book Art & Arcana: A Visual History and the documentary The Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons and Dragons
Art & Arcana by Newman, Peterson, Witwer, and Witwer is a book that came out recently about the art of Dungeons and Dragons over the course of its history. It is lavishly produced in both a standard edition and a collector’s edition. The Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons and Dragons is a new independent documentary about the same subject, which is available on the various streaming services. Let me say up front that I highly recommend both to anyone interested in role-playing games or even just fantasy art. That being said, they should both be viewed critically with an understanding that the creators of these two takes on the history of the game are definitely long-time fans of the game. This needs to be factored in when analyzing them.
I started playing Dungeons and Dragons right after 5th edition came out to find yet another mentally stimulating activity to do with my own children. Role-playing tabletop games are a bonanza of high order thinking practice for their players. The way they jog creative impulses in their players is unparalleled in gaming today. And so, I highly recommend their use to parents and teachers. As a nerd who was born in the 70s and came of age in the 80s, I had grown up alongside Dungeons and Dragons, although I never played it in its real form. I had played computer games based on the ruleset of the game, however, and enjoyed them. So, I came into the role-playing tabletop hobby knowing tertiarily about the game, but not fully understanding what exactly it was all about (to say the least). I certainly didn’t have a solid grasp of its history. However, I also did not have decades of cognitive dissonance, protecting the game, built up within me from trying to defend the game against its critics. But I do love learning the history of things and it wasn’t long before I started researching the topic.
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