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

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Welcome to Pushing Buttons, the Guardian’s gaming newsletter. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox every week, just pop your email in below – and check your inbox (and spam) for the confirmation email.

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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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Meditation app Calm sacks one-fifth of staff | Meditation

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The US-based meditation app Calm has laid off 20% of its workforce, becoming the latest US tech startup to announce job cuts.

The firm’s boss, David Ko, said the company, which has now axed about 90 people from its 400-person staff, was “not immune” to the economic climate. “In building out our strategic and financial plan, we revisited the investment thesis behind every project and it became clear that we need to make changes,” he said in a memo to staff.

“I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

The Calm app, founded in 2012, offers guided meditation and bedtime stories for people of all ages. It received a surge of downloads triggered by the 2020 Covid lockdowns. By the end of that year, the software company said the app had been downloaded more than 100 million times globally and had amassed over 4 million paying subscribers.

Investors valued the firm, which said it had been profitable since 2016, at $2bn.

In the memo, Ko went on: “We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization.”

More than 500 startups have laid off staff this year, according to layoffs.fyi, a website that tracks such announcements.

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Let there be ambient light sensing, without data theft • The Register

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Six years after web security and privacy concerns surfaced about ambient light sensors in mobile phones and notebooks, browser boffins have finally implemented defenses.

The W3C, everyone’s favorite web standards body, began formulating an Ambient Light Events API specification back in 2012 to define how web browsers should handle data and events from ambient light sensors (ALS). Section 4 of the draft spec, “Security and privacy considerations,” was blank. It was a more carefree time.

Come 2015, the spec evolved to include acknowledgement of the possibility that ALS might allow data correlation and device fingerprinting, to the detriment of people’s privacy. And it suggested that browser makers might consider event rate limiting as a potential mitigation.

By 2016, it became clear that allowing web code to interact with device light sensors entailed privacy and security risks beyond fingerprinting. Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant, explored the possibilities in a 2016 blog post.

Olejnik cited a number of ways in which ambient light sensor readings might be abused, including data leakage, profiling, behavioral analysis, and various forms of cross-device communication.

He described a few proof-of-concept attacks, devised with the help of security researcher Artur Janc, in a 2017 post and delved into more detail in a 2020 paper [PDF].

“The attack we devised was a side-channel leak, conceptually very simple, taking advantage of the optical properties of human skin and its reflective properties,” Olejnik explained in his paper.

“Skin reflectance only accounts for the 4-7 percent emitted light but modern display screens emit light with significant luminance. We exploited these facts of nature to craft an attack that reasoned about the website content via information encoded in the light level and conveyed via the user skin, back to the browsing context tracking the light sensor readings.”

It was this technique that enabled the proof-of-concept attacks like stealing web history through inferences made from CSS changes and stealing cross origin resources, such as images or the contents of iframes.

Snail-like speed

Browser vendors responded in various ways. In May 2018, with the release of Firefox 60, Mozilla moved access to the W3C proximity and ambient light APIs behind flags, and applied further limitations in subsequent Firefox releases.

Apple simply declined to implement the API in WebKit, along with a number of other capabilities. Both Apple and Mozilla currently oppose a proposal for a generic sensor API.

Google took what Olejnik described his paper as a “more nuanced” approach, limiting the precision of sensor data.

But those working on the W3C specification and on the browsers implementing the spec recognized that such privacy protections should be formalized, to increase the likelihood the API will be widely adopted and used.

So they voted to make the imprecision of ALS data normative (standard for browsers) and to require the camera access permission as part of the ALS spec.

Those changes finally landed in the ALS spec this week. As a result, Google and perhaps other browser makers may choose to make the ALS API available by default rather than hiding it behind a flag or ignoring it entirely. ®



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4 supports that can help employees outside of work

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Everyone has different situations to deal with outside of the workplace. But that doesn’t mean the workplace can’t be a source of support.

Employers and governments alike are often striving to make workplaces better for everyone, whether it’s workplace wellbeing programmes or gender pay gap reporting.

However, life is about more than just the hours that are spent in work, and how an employer supports those other life challenges can be a major help.

Family-friendly benefits

Several companies have been launching new benefits and policies that help families and those trying to have children.

Job site Indeed announced a new ‘family forming’ benefit package earlier this year, which is designed to provide employees with family planning and fertility-related assistance.

The programme includes access to virtual care and a network of providers who can guide employees through their family-forming journey.

Vodafone Ireland introduced a new fertility and pregnancy policy in February 2022 that includes extended leave for pregnancy loss, fertility treatment and surrogacy.

And as of the beginning of 2022, Pinterest employees around the world started receiving a host of new parental benefits, including a minimum of 20 weeks’ parental leave, monetary assistance of up to $10,000 or local equivalent for adoptive parents, and four weeks of paid leave to employees who experience a loss through miscarriage at any point in a pregnancy.

Helping those experiencing domestic abuse

There are also ways to support employees going through a difficult time. Bank of Ireland introduced a domestic abuse leave policy earlier this year, which provides a range of supports to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Under the policy, the bank will provide both financial and non-financial support to colleagues, such as paid leave and flexibility with the work environment or schedule.

In emergency situations where an employee needs to immediately leave an abusive partner, the bank will help through paid emergency hotel accommodation or a salary advance.

In partnership with Women’s Aid, the company is also rolling out training to colleagues to help recognise the symptoms of abuse and provide guidance on how to take appropriate action.

Commenting on the policy, Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said employers who implement policies and procedures for employees subjected to domestic abuse can help reduce the risk of survivors giving up work and increase “feelings of solidarity and support at a time when they may feel completely isolated and alone”.

A menopause policy

In 2021, Vodafone created a policy to support workers after a survey it commissioned revealed that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced menopause symptoms said it impacted them at work. A third of those who had symptoms also said they hid this at work. Half of those surveyed felt there is a stigma around talking about menopause, which is something Vodafone is seeking to combat through education for all staff.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com last year, Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said the company would roll out a training and awareness programme to all employees globally, including a toolkit to improve their understanding of menopause and provide guidance on how to support employees, colleagues and family members.

In Ireland, Vodafone employees are able to avail of leave for sickness and medical treatment, flexible working hours and additional care through the company’s employee assistance programme when going through the menopause.

Support hub for migrants

There are also initiatives to help people get their foot on the employment ladder.

Earlier this year, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD launched a new service with education and employment supports for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.

The Pathways to Progress platform is part of the Open Doors Initiative supporting marginalised groups to access further education, employment and entrepreneurship in Ireland.

As part of the initiative, member company Siro offered a paid 12-week internship programme for six people who are refugees. The internships include job preparation, interview skills and access to the company’s online learning portals.

Open Doors Initiative CEO Jeanne McDonagh said the chance to land a meaningful job or establish a new business is key to people’s integration into Ireland, no matter what route they took to get here.

“Some are refugees, some are living in direct provision, some will have their status newly regularised, and others will come directly for work,” she said. “Our new service aims to support all migrants in finding a decent job as they prepare to enter the Irish workforce, and to support employers as they seek to build an inclusive culture in their workplaces.”

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