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‘A wonderful escape’: the rise of gaming parents – and grandparents | Games

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Helping his seven-year-old daughter Romy set up the Nintendo Switch she got for Christmas, Paul Cliff managed to get himself hooked on Animal Crossing. “I’ve somehow played over 600 hours on it since January,” says Paul, 56, of the life simulation game where villagers carry out daily activities such as gardening, furniture arrangement and gathering fruits.

“I love the collecting in it, it’s so gentle and oddly rewarding,” he says, recalling an afternoon spent fishing together when Romy finally caught the Stringfish she’d been trying to catch for ages. “She couldn’t wait to show me. We’ve been amazed at each other’s achievements and creativity. I’ve found it an immersive and relaxing experience. I love my wee island, it’s a wonderful escape from what’s going on outside our four walls.”

While gaming was already expanding well before Covid-19 upended normal life and confined many to their homes, its popularity soared this pandemic. Ofcom found 62% of UK adults played some form of video game in 2020, and research from GlobalWebIndex found the 55-64 age group was the fastest-growing market, rising by almost a third (32%) since 2018. With gaming increasingly counted as “family time”, it also uncovered the rise of gaming parents and grandparents, affectionately coined OAGs.

“Video games have been an important source of help for many during these difficult periods of restricted movement,” says Prof James Newman, a video games and gaming culture academic. Part of the pleasure comes from being in the world of the game, whether that’s the reassuringly mundane daily routines in Animal Crossing providing continuity in such uncertain times, or being able to roam free in vast open worlds at a time of limited access to real-world spaces.

But as well as providing much-needed fun, stimulation and escape from the isolation and monotony of the past year, video games have helped connect friends, families and people of all ages across the world, Newman says.

“What we’re seeing a lot is parents and grandparents being taught by their children and grandchildren to keep in touch, and this gathering around a common interest creates quality inter-generational interactions and connections, even at a distance,” says Dr Lynn Love, a lecturer in computer arts at Abertay University.

Video games can have manifold benefits for older people, including boosting cognitive and problem-solving skills, she adds, and the pandemic has opened up new audiences to different kinds of games. “Many are finding video games aren’t what they thought they were, and are seeing that there are different types of games they can connect with. It also seems to be giving many a new lease of life.”

Jane Boon developed her new hobby after her son moved home from university last March and she asked him to teach her how to play. “I’d always thought it looked fun and it was something we could do together during lockdown,” says the 62-year-old. “I was useless but I persevered,” she says of her first try at action-adventure game Hollow Knight. Before long, she was playing through the game entirely by herself and kept playing on her son’s old Xbox when he went back to uni.

She loves the sense of achievement it gives her, from the sheer joy of single-handedly killing a major boss in Hollow Knight, to de-stressing with a long game of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. “It’s taught me that I can do new things and not give up,” she says. “It’s very easy when you’re older to start to assume you can’t learn new things and it’s not true.”

A scene from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
A scene from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Photograph: Nintendo

John Reed, 74, agrees, having found his skills as a chess player highly transferable to his new addiction, Call of Duty: Warzone solos. He’s so far gained five outright victories in the first-person shooter game. “It’s gained me enormous kudos with my grandsons,” Reed says. “And it’s nice to think that all these highly rated players are being taken out by a grandpa in his dressing gown.”

Playing games with her children and grandchildren made the third lockdown “far easier” for 66-year-old Julie Mason. Chatting on FaceTime while they played the cooking simulation game Overcooked and the strategic maze-based game Bomberman helped them enjoy much-needed family time when they couldn’t see each other. Now even her husband, always “a very reluctant gamer”, plays Dr. Mario with her every day. “It took him a while to be confident but he’s pretty competent on it now – not as good as me though haha!” Mason says.

Playing Minecraft with their grownup children also kept Angela and Bernhard Heidemann, 55 and 57, sane during lockdown. The sandbox construction game helped keep them connected as a family, giving them shared experiences, adventures, and even life events – they held a virtual graduation ceremony for their son last summer, building their own graduation hall, a virtual certificate, and a restaurant and nightclub for the afterparty. “We’re now thoroughly hooked,” says Angela.

The pandemic has shown a thirst for different types of experiences, particularly with the level of customisation in games such as Animal Crossing and Minecraft, says Love, who believes the upward trend is here to stay and that people will continue to fit video games into life beyond the pandemic.

Karen Davis*, 59, found the freedom of open-world games such as Skyrim, Fallout and Oblivion hugely comforting. From Pembrokeshire, Davis hasn’t seen a city since 2019, and the Dishonored series became her favourite because of its urban setting and appropriately dystopian storyline. Every day she’s spent hours immersed in difficulty settings, skill sets and character attributes, but with life moving closer to something like normal, will she have time for her lockdown hobby? “I’ve just bought The Witcher and Red Dead Redemption,” she says. “So this isn’t over.”

*Name has been changed.

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How to keep a support contract • The Register

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On Call Let us take a little trip back to the days before the PC, when terminals ruled supreme, to find that the more things change the more they stay the same. Welcome to On Call.

Today’s story comes from “Keith” (not his name) and concerns the rage of a user whose expensive terminal would crash once a day, pretty much at the same time.

The terminal in question was a TAB 132/15. It was an impressive bit of kit for the time and was capable of displaying 132 characters of crisp, green text on a 15-inch CRT housed in a futuristic plastic case. Luxury for sure, unless one was the financial trader trying to use the device.

Once a day, at around 13:30, the terminal would hang. The user would have to reach behind it, power it off, wait a bit, and then fire it back up again. To placate the angry customer, a replacement was dispatched, and all was well. Until the problem started again. Another replacement was made. Another week or so went by with no complaints. And again, another call: the terminal was hanging. Same time. A few times a week.

“These terminals were in the thousand-dollar range,” Keith told us, so a monthly replacement cycle was not really an option. He even used one of the faulty units himself for a while and encountered no issues, which was odd in itself and, we reckon, planted a seed of suspicion.

As for the customer, he was raging by this point. “He was threatening to cancel our contract for his entire firm,” remembered Keith, which would hit the bottom line hard. A salesperson was sent out to see what was happening, but there was no failure.

A technician went out; again no failure. Was this a case of “Technician Syndrome”, where a problem cannot be replicated in front of service personnel? Maybe. Keith’s team were at their wit’s end while the customer had hit the end of his tether and gone beyond.

The solution to the problem was accidental. Keith was back on site, diagnosing an unrelated software issue, but could see the suspect terminal on the other side of the room. As he watched, the trader using the machine sat back for lunch, flipping through the pages of a financial newspaper. A phone call came through, and the trader slung the paper on top of the monitor, took the call, and then resumed work.

Oblivious to the newspaper.

A few minutes later there was uproar. The trader had stood and was slapping the side of the terminal, yelling all manner of not-safe-for-work oaths and casting aspersions upon the good name of Keith’s firm, the software, the programmers, and the computing industry in general. The cursing continued as the trader reached behind for the power switch, knocking the paper aside.

Keith had his solution. But was smart enough to know that a bland presentation of facts would probably not help. Instead, he arranged for his office to call the trader and tell him that a tech was on the way to help. He waited until the trader was distracted and sauntered over.

“Sure enough,” said Keith, “he said he was glad to see me but launched into a tirade again about the device’s many faults.”

He let the customer vent for a while, and surreptitiously placed the newspaper back on top over the heat vents on the terminal while pretending to examine the rear of the unit.

Now patience was needed. It wouldn’t take long – the terminal had, after all, only just recovered from its last overheating episode – and Keith encouraged the trader to unload all his woes and grievances.

The bug list was building as the screen suddenly flickered and locked up. “There! You see that?” exclaimed the user. Keith nodded and reached round the side of the terminal to cycle the power. Sure enough, it came back up.

Keith made a show of thanking the user for showing him the elusive bug and was staging a call with a co-worker, supposedly to prepare a replacement, when the terminal locked up again.

Keith wrinkled his forehead at the “mystery” before offering up an explanation.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “Did you see how that flicker started from the top and moved to the down?”

Those familiar with the technology will know it was just following the raster pattern. The customer, on the other hand, did not.

“That is often a sign it is overheating,” said Keith, playing fast and loose with the truth, “but this office is cool?”

He pretended to be mystified until the penny dropped for the trader, who unleashed yet more expletives as he realised where he’d dropped his newspaper and snatched it away from the vents.

Feeling the volcanic heat spewing from the depths of the terminal, he turned to Keith, suddenly concerned: “Will it be OK?”

Of course it would. It had only been overheating for a short time every day. The apologies from the customer, who had “discovered” the problem, were profuse and copious. Keith excused himself, but not before rubbing a bit more salt into the wound by telling the user he needed to cancel the burn-in process of yet another expensive replacement.

As it turned out, rather than the customer cancelling the support contact, it ended up being extended.

“It was a good thing I’d let him ‘discover’ the fault,” said Keith. “If I had found it, he would have been very defensive and we still might have lost that contract.”

The minor bugs the user had reported while Keith had been waiting for the overheating to happen again were swiftly dealt with and the enhancement requests logged. Keith also reported back to his boss, who spent rather a lot of time laughing.

“It was a good day.”

Ever set the stage so the customer thinks they’re the hero of the hour? Or maybe you’ve wished all manner of unpleasantness upon your suppliers before realising the blame laid with you all along? Tell us about the time you picked up the phone with an email to On Call. ®

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NUIG to spend €5m on research to help address global issues

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Several key research areas have been identified by NUI Galway to work towards for 2026.

NUI Galway’s recently launched research and innovation strategy includes a €5m investment on support for its multi-disciplinary research teams as they grapple with several global issues.

The strategy, which lays out plans for the university’s next five years of research, focuses on six areas: antimicrobial resistance, decarbonisation, democracy and its future, food security, human-centred data and ocean and coastal health.

“As a public university, we have a special responsibility to direct our research toward the most pressing questions and the most difficult issues,” said to Prof Jim Livesey, VP for research and innovation at NUI Galway.

“As we look into the future, we face uncertainty about the number and nature of challenges we will face, but we know that we will rely on our research capacity as we work together to overcome them,” Livesey added.

The plan focuses on creating the conditions to intensify the quality, scale and scope of research in the university into the future. This includes identifying areas with genuine potential to achieve international recognition for NUI Galway. It also aims to continue to cultivate a supportive and diverse environment within its research community.

NUI Galway has research collaborations with 3,267 international institutions in 114 different countries. The university also has five research institutes on its Galway city campus, including the Data Science Institute, the Whitaker Institute for social change and innovation and the Ryan Institute for marine research.

Its research centres in the medtech area include Science Foundation Ireland’s Cúram and the Corrib Research Centre for Advanced Imaging and Core Lab.

The university will also continue to involve the public with its research and innovation plans through various education and outreach initiatives. It is leading the Public Patient Involvement Ignite network, which it claims, will “bring the public into the heart of research initiatives”.

Another key area identified in the strategy report is the development of partnerships with industry stakeholders. NUI Galway has spun out many successful companies in recent years, including medtechs such as AuriGen Medical, Atrian, Vetex Medical and Neurent.

According to MedTech Europe, Ireland has the highest number of medtech employees per capita in Europe along with Switzerland.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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France hails victory as Facebook agrees to pay newspapers for content | France

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France has hailed a victory in its long-running quest for fairer action from tech companies after Facebook reached an agreement with a group of national and regional newspapers to pay for content shared by its users.

Facebook on Thursday announced a licensing agreement with the APIG alliance of French national and regional newspapers, which includes Le Parisien and Ouest-France as well as smaller titles. It said this meant “people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected”.

France had been battling for two years to protect the publishing rights and revenue of its press and news agencies against what it termed the domination of powerful tech companies that share news content or show news stories in web searches.

In 2019 France became the first EU country to enact a directive on the publishing rights of media companies and news agencies, called “neighbouring rights”, which required large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content. But it has taken long negotiations to reach agreements on paying publishers for content.

No detail was given of the exact amount agreed by Facebook and the APIG.

Pierre Louette, the head of the media group Les Echos-Le Parisien, led the alliance of newspapers who negotiated as a group with Facebook. He said the agreement was “the result of an outspoken and fruitful dialogue between publishers and a leading digital platform”. He said the terms agreed would allow Facebook to implement French law “while generating significant funding” for news publishers, notably the smallest ones.

Other newspapers, such as the national daily Le Monde, have negotiated their own deals in recent months. News agencies have also negotiated separately.

After the 2019 French directive to protect publishers’ rights, a copyright spat raged for more than a year in which French media groups sought to find common ground with international tech firms. Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites. News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions complained about not receiving a cut of the millions made from ads displayed alongside news stories, particularly on Google.

But this year Google announced it had reached a draft agreement with the APIG to pay publishers for a selection of content shown in its searches.

Facebook said that besides paying for French content, it would also launch a French news service, Facebook News, in January – a follow-up to similar services in the US and UK – to “give people a dedicated space to access content from trusted and reputable news sources”.

Facebook reached deals with most of Australia’s largest media companies earlier this year. Nine Entertainment, which includes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, said in its annual report that it was expecting “strong growth in the short-term” from its deals with Facebook and Google.

British newspapers including the Guardian signed up last year to a programme in which Facebook pays to license articles that appear on a dedicated news section on the social media site. Separately, in July Guardian Australia struck a deal with Facebook to license news content.

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