For Amusement Only? Growing up with Technology

Over the Christmas holiday, my son and I were talking about video game arcades. I spent so much time in them during junior high. That and at the roller rink, where I first played Pong, Missile Command, and Space Invaders. Good times, mostly with my brother. My son hasn’t been to one and really wants to go.

Last week Laura June at the Verge published a great piece on the rise and fall of the video arcade. It is a long and richly detailed piece that is worth every minute you’ll spend with it. It is full of excellent social history, but these bits really struck me:

Like shopping malls and roller skating rinks, they were safe, isolated areas where kids and teenagers could hang out, and, with a reasonable amount of money, spend hours without their parents. Bill Disney, a pinball enthusiast and owner of The Pinball Gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, says of his younger years that “most parents, they basically didn’t know what their kids were doing any time of the day. They were on their bikes, out the whole day,” and “they didn’t care where they were.” This laid-back attitude varied by family, as well as by geography, but the relative autonomy of older children in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early 1980s, was much greater than it would be moving into the ‘90s. Films of the early ‘80s such as E.T. and The Wizard show typical, American kids, left to their own devices, playing video games and capturing aliens with their friends while their parents are at work…


Another Cool Christmas Gift: Give to Child’s Play (& Maybe Receive, too)

Still looking for something nice to do this Christmas? Consider donating to the cool organization Childs Play. As their website puts it:

Child’s Play seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the kindness and generosity of the video game industry and the power of play. When gamers give back, it makes a difference!

By facilitating donations of cash and stuff (hospitals set have “wish lists” for the kids they serve), Child’s Play helps make the lives of ill kids better by giving them ways to play. Laughter may not be the only medicine, but it is a potent one. They’ve raised about $ 3.7 million so far this year.

As an added bonus, the excellent tech news and commentary site Ars Technica is running a raffle with prizes like a Surface tablet, a Chromebook, a limited edition Skylander, and tons of video game collectables.

Just grab a digital copy of your receipt (a screenshot, or simply a cut and paste of the text) and send it to by Friday, January 4, 2013.

For more info, go to 2012 Ars Child’s Play Drive.

The One World Futbol for Christmas

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Maybe something that others might enjoy, too. Check out the One World Futbol (or soccer ball, for those of us in the US) project. (via Ken Belson at the New York Times.)

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

Something that I never would have thought of. So Jahnigen figured out how to make a soccer ball that plays well but doesn’t deflate. Super cool. Now I won’t have to find one of those needles somewhere in the utility drawer, or was it the garage, in the spring when the ball will be flat.

But more importantly, kids who don’t have much but a soccer ball can keep on playing.

They have a “buy one, give one” program where they “give a second ball to a community in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster areas and inner cities.” Or you can just give one if you’d like. Check out One World Futbol Project .

Re-Coding Hero Gender in Video Games

Lots of people have talked about gender stereotypes in video games. Few games have uniformly positive female images that young girls can look up to. Even fewer have female lead characters who are the heroes. Boys buy most games, so characterization follows.

Why wait for the companies to fix things? Mike Hoye didn’t:

“As you might imagine I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers,” he wrote on his blog.

Hoye decided to take matters into his own hands, and just fix the game. Since he was playing the game through emulator software, rather than on an actual GameCube, he was able to modify the games files in such a way that swapped gendered pronouns in the on-screen dialog. “Swordsman” becomes “swordsmain,” “milady” becomes “my lad,” etc.

Very cool.

(Ok, I feel obligated to say there are probably legal/copyright reasons not to do this. But still very cool.)

From John Herrman at (the oftentimes crazy) Buzzfeed via GM Seigler at parislemon.

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