Video Games and the Human Brain

Video games challenge players to solve problems, overcome obstacles and, in many cases, learn. While some argue that games can be extremely effective education tools, researchers have just started to scratch the surface of what actually happens in our brain when we play games.

Cerebral Cortex, a research journal for papers about the study of the cerebral cortex, published a recent report by the University of Pittsburgh’s Kirk Erikson, Assistant Professor of Psychology, about certain regions of the brain that seem to facilitate advanced understanding of interactive media. In other words, Erikson discovered four distinct areas of the brain that might actually make us better at playing video games.

The caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens and hippocampus, were all discovered to have an impact on a person’s ability to comprehend and engage interactive digital media. Even more, it was noted that participants with larger nucleus accumbens were noticeably more proficient in the early, learning stage of a game, what we often refer to in the industry as the, “learning curve.” Conversely, those with a larger than average caudate nucleus and putamen were better at adapting to changing strategies within the game. It would seem that while the nucleus accumbens helps the player establish a firm understanding of the overall game world, the caudate nucleus and putamen help the player understand how it evolves and changes with their input.

Here's an image of the brain showing the caudate nucleus (blue), putamen (red), nucleus accumbens (orange spot) and hippocampus (green).

The study is problematic, as Arizona State’s James Gee points out in response, because the internal structure of the brain and external stimuli interact in very complex ways. As Gee points out, ” it is hard to tell whether a set of experiences led to a brain difference (e.g., more reading leading to changes in the brain) or a brain difference led to people wanting, getting, and being better at some experiences (e.g., seeking out reading and liking it more and being better at it).” This kind of brings us back to the nature v. nurture argument, except we’re talking about one’s ability to play video games, rather than the ability to adapt and survive.

If anything, this study shows just how little we actually do know about the cognitive faculties that are engaged during game playing. It’s clear that there is a positive correlation between video game interaction and cognitive development, and if there are scientists out there that want to claim that you have to be smart to play video games, I’m okay with that.

The Conrad Foundation: Education and Entrepreneurship

The Conrad Foundation is a non-profit science education organization that connects brilliant high school students with today’s science and business leaders to foster an educational community to inspire the next generation of innovators. Before I go on, you should know that TriplePoint represents The Conrad Foundation on a pro-bono basis. The Conrad Foundation is working incredibly hard these days to get recognition for students across the country that are making a difference by stepping up and contributing solutions to some of our out planets biggest challenges, and I wanted to take a moment to recognize them and tell you a bit more about what they do.

Continue reading The Conrad Foundation: Education and Entrepreneurship

Top Ten Video Game PR Moments of 2009

It’s December, and ’tis the season to sit back with friends and family, have some eggnog, and organize an entire year’s worth of events into convenient, easily understandable list form – preferably condensing it to no more than 10 events, otherwise you’ll be… hey what’s that over there? That’s right! It’s a list of the ten most defining PR moments in the video game industry in 2009. What better way to get into the season of unabashed navel-gazing than to summarize the most successful, and failed, attempts at bolstering one’s public image.

#10 – OnLive Streams GDC 2009 – Cloud computing was all the rage this past March when OnLive announced that it had been in stealth mode for seven years and was close to achieving the un-achievable – streaming intensely complex video games to any television or PC. With a major funding announcement combined with a near-fully operational playable prototype, OnLive stole the show with little effort. A perfect PR storm, hardly anything else came close to generating the amout of buzz OnLive did at GDC 2009. Since then, however, we’ve heard hardly a peep, and GDC 2010 is just around the corner. Will it be another seven years until we hear from OnLive again?

#9 – 2K fouls EA at the line – A good thing to keep in mind when promoting your own game is that you should focus on promoting your own game. Never talk badly about a competitor, keep them close for they are your enemy. Such logic was not in mind when 2K Sports community manager Ronnie Singh accused EA of developing a patch for NBA Live 10 before the game was released, saying that their incorporation of community feedback was an exageration. Flame war! These two companies battled it out for days in blogs and on Twitter. Sadly, no one came out on top, and both groups ended up looking silly. What happened to being the bigger person?

Continue reading Top Ten Video Game PR Moments of 2009

Call of Differentiation Part 2: Missed Connections

Modern Warfare 2
A few months ago I wrote about the unfortunate confusion over the Modern Warfare and Call of Duty brands. Infinity Ward had just conceded to assuming the Call of Duty label for their upcoming blockbuster Modern Warfare 2, and they and Activision were ramping up for a massive marketing campaign. I showed how Modern Warfare 2 might have already lost its chance to break GTA IV’s monster sales records, and that an awe-inspiring marketing campaign was in order to recapture lost mindshare. Now, less than a week away from launch, we haven’t really seen a campaign on par with what we saw for GTA IV, and Infinity Ward’s most recent promotions seem to only disappoint the relatively small community of industry writers. There is an enormous group of fans that will purchase this game on day one, and Infinity Ward and Activision have done a great job catering to their interests, but have they missed an opportunity to bring Modern Warfare 2, and video games in general, to a larger audience? Continue reading Call of Differentiation Part 2: Missed Connections

Heir to the Throne of Entertainment Not All About Looks


This week Activision CEO Bobby Kotick expressed his opinion that gaming will “eclipse” film and television within the next five years by essentially crossing the “uncanny valley,” bringing the emotional connection between humans and computer generated characters full circle. Though graphical processing will continue to improve, the fact is that graphics alone aren’t going to fuel a mass-media takeover. Bridging the uncanny valley may be possible, and it might even happen in the next console generation, but it’s not going to be enough win over the entire film and television audience within the next five years.

Continue reading Heir to the Throne of Entertainment Not All About Looks

Slow Sales and a Larger Audience Spells Change for the Games Industry

Used Games

June NPD data showed the game industry’s sharpest decline since 2000, with overall sales dropping 31% from this same time in 2008. The sales decline contrasts sharply with the fact that 4 million new gamers have entered the industry in the past year. The rise in audience size alongside a sharp drop in sales signals an emerging trend that players are increasingly turning to affordable digital content, free-to-play online game portals and casual games for interactive entertainment.

With Gamestop openly stating that their margins are being buffered by used game sales, protecting them from the sharp decline, one has to wonder if the sales slump is a temporary trend, or a permanent change. GameStop’s stranglehold on the used game market has caused many publishers and developers to explore alternative distribution outlets via online distribution platforms and console based marketplaces, and thus the quality of digital content has increased monumentally over the past year. Continue reading Slow Sales and a Larger Audience Spells Change for the Games Industry

Call of Differentiation

CODThe Call of Duty franchise is one of the most successful and iconic video game brands of all time, partially because development of each game alternates between two studios, Infinity Ward and Treyarch, allowing publisher Activition to release a new full game each year. But that boon has turned into a burden as the desire for differentiation has resulted in an identity crisis for the brand. The internal politics between Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch has created congnitive dissonance over where the Call of Duty series is headed. And in the case of this year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Activision has said that they’re gunning for Grand Theft Auto 4’s launch sales records, but their indecision over the official title of the game may have cost them millions in opening day revenue, and has potentially pushed GTA IV’s sales records out of reach.

For Call of Duty fans the buzz leading up to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has been a roller coaster ride of product branding and re-branding. When the game was first mentioned during a Massive Inc., “upfront” advertising meeting in late 2008, it was referred to as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. After 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Activision dropped the, “4” and began using subtitles to denote sequels, hence 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War – sometimes referred to by fans as Call of Duty 5. Confused? Well don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Continue reading Call of Differentiation

Playing the Public Relations Game at E3

E3 MS Press Conference

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend E3, the largest gaming event of the year and an indicator not only of the current health of the industry, but of the technology that will carry it through the next year. 2009 was a show of rebirth for a conference traditionally mired in spectacle and hype. Stepping into this year’s event after the previous two was like stepping off of an airplane, the pressure dropping around me, and the atmosphere felt as justifying as it did celebratory – once again E3 was about the fun and excitement of being a gamer. And the first step to getting gamers excited at E3 is to know how to communicate with them.

Now that E3 is back to its former glory, it is once again a battle for hype between the three biggest companies: Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. “Winning” E3 requires more than just showing incredible technology – there’s nothing BUT incredible technology at E3 – it takes a great presentation of that technology to build maximum anticipation, and doing that requires a great public relations strategy.

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Anastasia Goodstein of – Emerging Trends in Online Marketing to Teens and Tweens

For the fourth installment of the TriplePoint speaker series, Anastasia Goodstein, Founder and Editor in Chief of, joins us to discuss the challenges and current trends in online marketing to teens and tweens. Anastasia is an award-winning blogger and often-quoted expert on American tweens, teens and early twentysomethings, and has worked in media for the past 15 years, helping launch youth oriented web and television properties for brands like Oxygen, AOL and Current TV. Anastasia is organizing the 2009 Youth Media Marketing Mashup coming up on June 1 – 2, where today’s top brand, corporate and social marketers, media professionals, educators and non-profit organizations gather to share and learn best practices, research and latest strategies on marketing to youth with technology. For more information, visit:

Wall Street Journal Looks Ahead to 3D Gesture Recognition

softkineticJerry A. Dicolo, writer for Dow Jones Newswires, wrote a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal about the emergence of 3D camera technology in consumer electronics. As computer manufacturers race to incorporate the latest touch screen functionality, another group of companies are working toward the next wave of interface technology, gesture recognition in 3D space.

Using sophisticated depth sensing camera technology, companies like Softkinetic are able to design interface software that reads a 3 dimensional image of a room. The specially designed software can then interpret the movment of a person into input commands. This technology will allow us to adjust the volume of a television with the twirl of a finger, or zoom in on an image by leaning forward. Theoretically it could become accurate enough for your computer or television to recognize individual faces.

Many people believe this technology will be available to the mass market within the next year, being implanted in televisions and sold as an accessory to video games. Right now there are two main impedements for this technology; the high cost of 3D cameras and the extensive processing power needed to interpret the immense amount of data from 3D cameras.

“What’s new here is that you can do it on a consumer-based device and you can do it well,” said Michael Steele, head of Nvidia Corp.’s visual computing business. “It’s not really ‘Star Trek’ anymore. It’s all really happening right now.”

Check out coverage of Softkinetic on KRON 4 News, and G4tv.

TriplePoint Speaker Series #3: Dan Hsu

Last week we were joined by Dan Hsu, former Editor in Chief of EGM and Co-Founder of the recently launched, Bitmob. Dan spoke with us about his extensive experience in game magazine publishing, the challenge of incorporating casual game coverage with a hardcore voice, the role he feels community has in the editorial process, what he believes the future of video game reporting will be, and much more. Please enjoy the video, and be sure to check out the unique community features Dan is developing at his new site, Bitmob.

Is Video Game Print Media Dying or Evolving?

gameinformer11This week I came across a short article titled, “The Fallacy of the ‘Print is Dead’ Meme”, by Michael Josefowicz. Josefowicz, a veteran of the print media industry, explains that the ‘Print is Dead’ is a meme that is generally perpetuated on a basis of anecdotal generalization by a small but very vocal group of ‘info-junkies,’ who constantly scour the web for up-to-the-minute news and obscure information. Being an ‘info-junkie’ myself, I’m intrigued but skeptical of any argument favoring print media and wonder what it means for video game media.

One of Josefowicz’ most telling arguments is that the “Print is Dead” meme grew prevalent during a “disruptive change in the communication ecology.” In other words, due to the rapid change in how information is exchanged, certain individuals benefitted by garnering a larger audience while others gradually lost their audience. Assuming the shift in audience size is not a result of better or worse content, this is an effect of certain people manipulating the digital pathways of information better than others. New media evangelists benefit from this and defend their newfound digital pathways in any way they can… hence their argument that digital media is putting all other forms of communication to bed.

Continue reading Is Video Game Print Media Dying or Evolving?

High School Students Honored by Pete Conrad Foundation

Final Frontier Apparel, winners in the personal spaceflight category, prepare their video presenation for the competition.
Final Frontier Apparel, winners in the personal spaceflight category, prepare their video presenation for the competition.

This past week we were fortunate enough to work with the Pete Conrad Foundation in promoting the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards, a competition for high school students to design the products of the future, facilitating commercial success in either of three categories: personal spaceflight, lunar exploration or renewable energy. The finalist teams all came up with some extremely fascinating projects including, a stationary bike that charges your electrical devices while you ride, a mechanical counter-pressure space suit that keeps an astronaut’s muscles, bones, blood vessels and nerve cells in top condition and a bioreactor that uses hydrogen cells and genetically modified bacteria to generate electricity. Wow!

It was truly a pleasure helping the Conrad Foundation give these students the recognition they deserve. The guidance they recieve from the advisors on the Conrad Foundation’s Advisory Board will be invaluable to them as they grow into careers of their own. For us, it’s all about promoting the stories of these hard-working students that take time out of their schedule to tackle real-world problems head on. These students are an example to all of us that the challenges our future brings will not be easy, but with dedication, and the support of organizations like the Conrad Foundation, we will find success. For more information about the Conrad Foundation and the winners of the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards, visit their homepage:

TriplePoint Speaker Series #2: Sid Shuman, Senior Editor of GamePro

Last week we were fortunate enough to meet with Sid Shuman, senior editor of GamePro, who joined us to discuss the used video game market and the future of digital distribution. As the senior editor of GamePro, Sid meets with many industry leaders who are actively building the groundwork for the future of video game entertainment. As such, his opinions are not only extremely well informed, but quite valuable to anyone involved in the gaming industry. I hope you enjoy the video as much as we enjoyed making it.

Softkinetic’s Gesture Recognition Interface Featured on KRON 4 Bay Area News

Gabriel Slate of, The Tech Report with Gabriel Slate came to TriplePoint’s Union Square office to check out Softkinetic’s revolutionary gesture recognition interface technology. This product, produced through a partnership with France Telecom’s IPTV provider, Orange TV, is a seamless, gesture-based interface that allows television viewers to manage their TV and web content without complicated external remotes. With this technology users can browse channels, adjust volume, browse the internet, play games, interact with friends and much more – all with simple hand gestures. Look for this technology to hit the market in early 2010. For more information visit: