A 'Serious' Direction for Video Games

ByABC News

Oct. 28, 2005 &#151 -- In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at how video games are being developed for more than just fun and entertainment. Plus, we note how some scientists are hoping to literally grow a new source of power.

The $9.9 billion video game business may be all based on the idea of entertainment for the masses. But for hundreds of game developers, hardware makers, researchers, scientists and others, the technologies and theories behind all the fun and games can be serious stuff.

On Oct. 31, the Serious Games Summit gets under way in Washington D.C. Its sole focus: To bring together the computer gaming industry with other experts from various fields for more than just a good time.

"'Serious gaming' is the idea of using [video] gaming technology, gaming theory and those kinds of things to understand complex dynamic processes," says Dr. David Warner, a neuroscientist and one of the principle founders of MindTel, LLC, a technology company in Syracuse, N.Y.

For example, powerful computer hardware and software have been used for years to help train pilots and other operators of complex machines. And as graphical capabilities continue to expand, such simulations have expanded to other areas -- virtual worlds where soldiers can learn how to fight in urban surroundings, or doctors can practice difficult surgical procedures.

But according to Warner, for serious gaming to really take off, developers will have to look beyond current technology -- a point he'll try to stress in his keynote address at the summit.

"From a progress point of view, we really don't stand much further than where we were [in] 1992 or 1993," he says. "There really aren't that many new interface modalities… [and] if you look at the mouse, the human body has so much more capacity to dynamically interact with information."

People learn best, says Warner, when all their senses are engaged and providing their brains with "input."

"If I'm standing in a crowd… I'm not just using my eyes for information. I'm feeling the environment, I'm sensing things, I'm hearing things, I'm smelling things," he says. "We're actually trying to use the body as the interface to the mind."

Warner says that if simulation designers and computer hardware makers could make that leap beyond today's "flinch and twitch" interfaces, there would be "a thousand-fold increase in the capacity for humans to interact with information systems."

"It's the evolutionary step so humans become more connected to the digital environment," he says.

— Larry Jacobs, ABC News


Handheld video games, PDAs, and of course cell phones… They all seem to have an endless appetite for batteries. Wouldn't it be nice if batteries grew on trees?

Maybe not there… but in Petri dishes. Someday.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are actually trying to come up with a way to grow rechargeable batteries with the help of tiny microbes that multiply by infecting living cells.

"We're forcing the viruses to interact with materials that they would never interact with normally, so now the viruses are a template to actually grow that material," says Angela Belcher, MIT professor of materials science, engineering and bioengineering.

She and her colleagues multiply the cells, then add material like metal. They hope it could some day actually be used to power electronic equipment

"We're using the same kinds of building blocks of the materials that are currently used in typical electronic components," says Belcher.

And because the resulting batteries would be so small, they could pack a lot of power, be lightweight, and possibly even be much more flexible than current versions.

But while the MIT scientists have been able to "grow" rudimentary electronic transistors in the labs, Belcher says it will still take some time before the world will reap the full benefits from the process.

— Cheri Preston, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.

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