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Blockbusters, massive competitions and ambitious narratives: How video games move between culture, industry and addiction | Culture

At one end of the dark screen, a small white line. Opposite, another. Between them a square dot moves from side to side, while a couple of numbers keep score above. That’s it. Thus, the Pong player was not only required to have some skill with the controller to move their line up and down, trying to hit that little white speck; they also needed to use their imagination in order to believe that they were actually hitting a ball in a fast-paced game of table tennis.

More than 50 years have passed since the release of the first massively commercially successful video game, and practically everything has changed. Today, there are million-dollar blockbusters, online competitions where thousands of gamers participate, sophisticated and complicated plots, state-of-the-art consoles and controllers and photorealistic graphics that hardly require any imagination at all. Nevertheless, the underlying debate still resembles a match of Pong: two sides in a black and white dispute. Just the opposite of what the recently published essay El siglo de los videojuegos (The century of video games), by specialized journalists Jorge Morla from EL PAÍS and Borja Vaz from El Cultural, sets out to do. Below we present some of the key points of the book.

A still from ‘Pong.’
A still from ‘Pong.’

They are everywhere around us

One does not need to read the 219 pages of the essay to realize the importance of the sector. You also don’t need numbers of users or sales figures. All you have to do is look around to see subway passengers tending farms on their cell phones; successful series and films inspired by video games; exhibitions that celebrate them; iconic characters in ambitious narratives; huge creative processes that take many years, millions of dollars and hundreds of workers to develop; the involvement of companies like Netflix, Google or Amazon, all while a myriad of tiny companies create all kinds of risky bets from all corners of the planet.

The growing relevance of video games is an undeniable fact. “The new generations are moving away from traditional and analog forms of culture and are increasingly embracing video games as a way of receiving cultural impacts,” says Morla. “And we see that impact in everything around us: from work to applications. They are not only the cultural artifact that moves the most money, but also the one that shapes the world the most.”

A moment from ‘Inside.’
A moment from ‘Inside.’

The Last of Us, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption 2, Journey, Portal and Gone Home are but a handful of examples of the “stupendous, critical, exorbitantly creative, groundbreaking, brave and non-conformist titles” that the interactive world is currently producing. Whoever thinks that playing with a controller equals shooting or scoring goals would be surprised to find out that they could also play a customs officer for a dictatorship in Papers, Please, solve a marital crisis in It Takes Two or investigate a detainee’s recordings in Her Story. The involvement of famous actors and screenwriters in a video game is no longer news; nor is the fact that some titles are co-produced by museums and universities, or focused on topics like childhood cancer or mental health.

A still from ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ (2018).
A still from ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ (2018).

From youth to maturity

The first video game, Tennis for Two, was created in 1958. The medium is not even 70 years old. And yet, two-dimensional table tennis has made way to soccer matches that don’t differ much from what you would see at the stadium; all those princes and plumbers who used to jump from platform to platform to rescue damsels pale in comparison next to the daring and powerful female warriors of today; and while Pac-Man only knew four directions and insatiable hunger, the protagonists of contemporary titles talk and face moral dilemmas, the controller vibrates and sounds and the player feels adrenaline, chills, even tears. In no other artistic field does the consumer become so involved in the narrative structure, as the essay points out.

A still from ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn.’ A still from ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn.’

The book notes that this increase in depth also means a growth in complexity. While Pong only required the player to turn a wheel to move the line up and down the screen, the controller of the PlayStation 5, Sony’s latest console, has 19 buttons. Just learning how to move the character is enough to discourage a first timer. Certain combinations even require special training. And there’s more: the most immersive entertainment is also the most expensive. The big releases can cost $80 and require consoles of at least $300, even if they do provide dozens of hours of entertainment. On the other hand, therein lies another barrier: the very long or very difficult adventures, which the most committed gamers adore, are a turnoff for those who only want some casual fun. Finally, age is also considered a boundary: even though it is advancing, the essay places the limit at around 40 years.

A moment from 'The Last Guardian'.
A moment from ‘The Last Guardian’.

Urban legends and truths

The stereotypes associated with video games have been around for almost as long as the games themselves. And while it is probably true that many of the best-known titles include high doses of violence or dull entertainment, “almost all the big blockbusters have undeniable cultural ambitions in which these stereotypes do not apply – except for violence, which is a resource like any other and must be normalized, as it is in literature or film,” says Vaz. Despite the absence of definitive studies, the alleged relationship between killing or injuring with a controller and doing it in real life continues to generate headlines and controversy.

Another common label, that of “addictive,” also has a double reading, according to the authors. “Although the scientific evidence is not conclusive, there is a potential number of gamers who play compulsively, where the activity takes up a place in their life that it should not, a disorder that harms them […]. Are video games to blame? Some, yes. Others, never. It is very difficult to become addicted to a narrative game with a beginning, middle and end,” elaborates the book. “The main problem is that if we are mired in the same old tired debates, we will never be able to delve into the narrative, aesthetic and mechanical innovations that are being offered,” adds Vaz.

A still from ‘Her Story.’ A still from ‘Her Story.’

Defeating problems

It would take an extremely skilled player to take on all the villains in the sector. Sexism, harassment and crunch (compulsory overtime), a very reactionary and noisy portion of the public, loot boxes that can push the user to spend compulsively, products that are launched too soon with technical failures, or endless sequels. The essay mentions almost all of them, hunting for answers that are as complex as the problems themselves.

It talks about how, for years, games were aimed at an audience of young straight white males – the same demographic that was creating them. And the power of money-hungry executives, the lack of originality and the unwillingness to take risks is undeniable. But the essay also mentions the war that arose within the sector, fighting for progress and inclusion. “On one hand, there is a very critical group that denounces the condemnable behaviors (the cases of sexism in Ubisoft or Activision, for example, or the reports about crunch),” points out Morla. Complaints that, in his opinion, have served to greatly improve both aspects of video games. On the other, the book speaks of a “toxic audience” and a “very vociferous minority” to refer to those who follow the dispute between Sony and Microsoft as an act of faith or who bombarded The Last of Us Part II with negative reviews because its female leads were part of the LGBTQ+ community.

A promotional image of ‘The Last of Us Part II.’
A promotional image of ‘The Last of Us Part II.’

“The sequels are not a problem, because the mechanics become more refined with each new installment. It is normal for sagas to exist,” reflects Morla. As for the loot boxes, he points out that a distinction must be made between those that require money and those that do not, and believes that the former should be regulated: “We must keep an eye on the most abusive ones.” Even more when minors can access them.

Let’s play

The essay includes a list of masterpieces, described as “modest, partial and incomplete” and ordered by difficulty of access for the public. Of these, Morla and Vaz highlight five that are easy to play: What Remains of Edith Finch, Inside, Stanley Parable, Braid and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

A still from ‘Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom,’ the sequel of ‘Breath of the Wild.’ A still from ‘Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom,’ the sequel of ‘Breath of the Wild.’

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Assessing Property Size: What Square Footage Can You Get With The Average UK House Price In Your Area?

Assessing Property Size In The UK

In the United Kingdom, there is a prevailing tendency to gauge the size of residences based on the number of bedrooms rather than square footage. In fact, research indicates that three out of five individuals are unaware of the square footage of their property.

However, a comprehensive analysis conducted by Savills reveals significant variations in property sizes throughout the country. For instance, with the average property price standing at £340,837, this amount would typically afford a studio flat spanning 551 square feet in London, according to the prominent estate agency.

Conversely, in the North East region, the same sum would secure a spacious five-bedroom house measuring 1,955 square feet, nearly four times the size of a comparable property in London.

Best value: Heading to the North East of England is where buyers will get the most from their money

In Scotland, the median house price equates to a sizable investment capable of procuring a generous four-bedroom residence spanning 1,743 square feet. Conversely, in Wales, Yorkshire & The Humber, and the North West, this sum affords a slightly smaller four-bedroom dwelling of approximately 1,500 square feet, while in the East and West Midlands, it accommodates a 1,300 square foot home. In stark contrast, within the South West, £340,837 secures a modest 1,000 square foot property, and in the East, an even more confined 928 square feet.

London presents the most challenging market, where this budget offers the least purchasing power. Following closely, the South East allows for 825 square feet of space or a medium-sized two-bedroom dwelling. Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills, emphasizes the profound disparity in purchasing potential across Britain, ranging from compact studio flats in London to spacious four or five-bedroom residences in parts of North East England.

While square footage serves as a critical metric, with a significant portion of Britons unfamiliar with their property’s dimensions, the number of bedrooms remains a traditional indicator of size. Personal preferences, such as a preference for larger kitchens, may influence property selection. For those prioritizing ample space, Easington, County Durham, offers a substantial 2,858 square foot, five-bedroom home, while Rhondda, Wales, and Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scotland, provide 2,625 and 2,551 square feet, respectively. Conversely, in St Albans, Hertfordshire, £340,837 secures a mere 547 square feet, equivalent to a one-bedroom flat.

The disparity continues in central London, where purchasing power diminishes considerably. In Kensington, the budget accommodates a mere 220 square feet, contrasting with the slightly more spacious 236 square feet in Westminster. Conversely, in Dagenham, the same investment translates to 770 square feet. Three properties currently listed on Rightmove exemplify the diversity within this price range across the UK market.

South of the river: This semi-detached house is located near to three different train stations

South of the river: This semi-detached house is located near to three different train stations

2. Lewisham: One-bed house, £345,000

This one-bedroom property in Lewisham, South London, is on the market for £345,000.

The semi-detached house is set over two floors, and has a private patio.

The property is located near to bus links and amenities, as well as Catford train station.

Edinburgh fringe: This three-bed property is located on the edge of the city, near to the town of Musselburgh

Edinburgh fringe: This three-bed property is located on the edge of the city, near to the town of Musselburgh

3. Edinburgh: Three-bed house, £350,000

This three-bedroom detached house in Edinburgh could be yours for £350,000.

The house, which has a two-car driveway, boasts a large kitchen diner, and is within easy reach of Newcriaghall train station.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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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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