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Pushing Buttons: Why there is still a bizarre social stigma to playing games | Games

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Today’s newsletter is inspired by an email from Iain Noble (hello again, Iain!), who wrote in with a question that tapped into something that’s been on my mind lately. Iain wrote: “One of the criticisms I often hear from non-gamers is that video games are very repetitious. Admittedly there is an element of truth in that many games require some grinding to level up characters, make money and get equipment. Do you think there is a specific personality type that is OK with that, rather like rats repeatedly pressing the same button to get a reward?”

This question reminds me of a story my partner tells about his grandad’s reaction to video games in 1983: “it’s all just pushing buttons, innit?” (This was the partial inspiration for the name of this newsletter, incidentally.) I mean, he’s not wrong, in a way, but also, that’s like saying that reading books is just turning pages. When you don’t understand something well, what you see from the outside is just a series of baffling actions. If you don’t care about tennis then it’s just two people hitting a ball at each other; if you do care about it, and especially if you have any knowledge of it, it’s a battle of wills, a dramatic tactical dance.

A few weeks ago I answered a question from a reader who was berated by his boss for playing on his Nintendo Switch on his lunch break, and a few readers got in touch to share their own stories of the bizarre social stigma that – still! – sometimes comes with gaming. “Wang on about this book or that, discuss the merits or otherwise of the latest Netflix murder-porn if you like, talk about sport – any sport – endlessly and at length, but say one word about how deeply absorbed you are with the latest interactive masterpiece and you may as well have just violently guffed for the looks you get,” wrote Steve Holmes, who also says that eyebrows were raised when he asked for Elden Ring for his 50th birthday. The thing is that almost anything seems boring and inexplicable if you are watching from the outside and don’t understand it. To people who don’t understand games, it probably does look like we’re just rats pushing buttons.

But an athlete or a musician also does the same things over and over again, when practising – and they find meaning, enjoyment and satisfaction in it. In games we’re often developing a skill, whether we’re playing Street Fighter or Fifa or bashing our heads against the same boss in Dark Souls. And some people find it soothing to do the same tasks over and over for a predictable reward. Every player has a different tolerance for repetition in video games, and I do think it comes down to personality. Some of us can apply ourselves with dedication to repetitive tasks such as grinding for XP, farming for equipment or beating a high score, and find pride in the result; others, like me, are novelty seekers, continually looking for a new experience or challenge.

How we play games often reflects how we approach life in general, and where we find our joy. One of the great things about games is that they allow us to express and explore who we are and how we like to behave in all sorts of interesting contexts. I certainly don’t feel like a rat in a cage when I’m playing them (unless I’m playing some awful free-to-play thing won’t let me continue unless I pay some money, and if that’s the case, I’m gonna stop playing pretty quickly). I feel like an adventurer, an explorer. It might look like I’m just pushing buttons, but actually I’m learning, thinking, experiencing, reacting. I might even be bettering myself, if developing superhuman Guitar Hero skills or crafting a full set of Rathalos armour in Monster Hunter counts as self-betterment.

So, no, I don’t think you need a high tolerance for repetition to enjoy video games. The main difference between people who understand video games and those who are dismissive of them isn’t personality, in my experience – it’s exposure. If people cared to look more closely at games and the people who play them, they’d see that it’s a hell of a lot more than pushing buttons.

What to play

This week, pick up LEGO Builder’s Journey
Blockbuster … This week, pick up LEGO Builder’s Journey Photograph: Light Brick Studio

An atmospheric and unexpectedly emotional puzzle game, LEGO Builder’s Journey tells a story about growing up and what it means to be a parent using minimalist blocks. Each level is a Lego diorama that you can change – or solve – by moving a few bricks around. Where most of the Lego games are gaudy, enjoyable slapstick takes on giant film and entertainment franchises, this one feels more like something that a bunch of art school students came up with during a game jam. It’s exceptionally relaxing and tactile, with soothing sound and a calm aesthetic. This game has been around for a few years, but it’s newly out on PlayStation this week – I’m glad more people can now play it.

Available on: iPhone/iPad, PC/Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation
Approximate playtime: two hours

What to read

  • Rockstar has removed transphobic caricatures from the latest Grand Theft Auto V remasters, following a campaign from LGBTQ developer group Out Making Games.

  • Fans of the most obscure era of Sega history, rejoice: Dreamcast icons Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi are set for big-budget reboots, according to Bloomberg.

  • Proving that people really will do anything to make life difficult for themselves, an Elden Ring speedrunner has managed to complete Elden Ring using just only a ground-pound move. Or, as Kotaku puts it: Elden Ring Speedrunner Kills Toughest Bosses With Only His Ass.

  • Pokémon Go creator Niantic is making an AR virtual pet game called Peridot, where you explore the real world alongside adorable creatures. As a member of the Tamagotchi and Pokémon generation, I’m resigning myself to losing weeks to this.

What to click

‘I need diverse games!’ How an angry tweet became a life-changing moment

A500 Mini review – tiny Commodore Amiga is a robust piece of tech nostalgia

Kirby and the Forgotten Land review – pink, blobby caper is a sliver of weird joy in dark times

TechScape: Will the video games industry ever confront its carbon footprint?

Question Block

Today’s question is from James Brewer: “I used to be really into gaming on my PC (and SNES if we’re going back that far!), especially games like the Kings Quest series, Monkey Island and 7th Guest/11th Hour. I’ve tried to get back into gaming recently but haven’t found anything that grabs my interest, apart from Uncharted. Are there any games or series you’d recommend?”

The point-and-click adventure game genre that captured you back in the 90s kind of died out for a while, but good news: it’s back now. Broken Age, part of the first wave of the adventure-game comeback, is a wonderful, surreal story with a great cast. Thimbleweed Park might scratch that same itch. I’ve never played The Book of Unwritten Tales, but it is a comedy fantasy game that’s spoken of fondly by my adventure-game-loving friends. The first few Telltale game series were landmark narrative games, particularly The Walking Dead – they’ve got no puzzles, really, but they definitely are part of the same family tree as Monkey Island et al. For a series that’s nothing but atmospheric puzzles, look at The Room. And because you also enjoyed Uncharted, I reckon you’d be up for some more action games with gripping action, the odd puzzle and decent stories: try the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and Rise of the Tomb Raider (but not Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that game’s a mess). And because it has a surreal air of mystery, like Kings Quest, you might like the creepy English narrative adventure Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I’m also going to recommend Portal and Portal 2, if you missed them at the time, just because everybody in the world should play them.

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Culture

European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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