Bonkers Video Game Questions That Were (Somehow) Answered
Whenever video games are the subject of scientific research, it's usually to figure out if they're turning kids into violent psychopaths. And man, that's a real bummer. So every once in a while, it's nice to learn of studies that put the "fun" back into "This is a fun hobby, please stop ruining it." Even if they are absurdly odd. For example ...
"Could Someone Really Eat That Gigantic Fast Food Order From GTA: San Andreas?"
For the most part, the writing in the Grand Theft Auto series is a mixed bag. At its best it's possibly entertaining. At its worst it's like someone tried to film an abandoned South Park script with the cast of The Sopranos. That said, some pearls do occasionally emerge, like the iconic scene from San Andreas in which comedic sidekick Big Smoke orders a lot of fast food. It's a lot better than we make it sound, honest.
The internet has studied this cutscene like a lost religious artifact, all in the name of figuring out Big Smoke's order. The best guess we've seen comes from YouTuber WarBear, who over two videos surmised that Smoke ordered three burgers, a bucket of chicken, two large sodas and fries, and three medium sodas and fries. He then eats everyone else's food too -- two burgers, chicken wings (with extra dip), and three more medium sodas and fries. WarBear also took the time to work out the calorific content of Smoke's haul, but that's kind of a moot point, considering that if Smoke was real, the next scene would consist of him writhing on the ground while Sweet Johnson desperately dials 911.
Or would it?
In 2017, Matt Stonie -- a YouTuber who specializes in competitive eating -- took up the challenge and ate his approximation of what Smoke ordered (which isn't too dissimilar from what WarBear suggested). After visiting several restaurants, Stonie consumed the entire thing, which totaled 9,000+ calories, in an awe-inspiring 35 minutes.
Regardless of whether you're a San Andreas fan or just like to see burgers disappear, it's definitely worth a watch. Especially since it concludes with a man surviving after eating a quantity of fast food that could be seen from space.
"What Is The Musical Style Of Donkey Kong Country?"
Video game soundtracks generally come in two flavors: looping beep-boops, melodies, and other sounds reminiscent of someone dropping a synthesizer down a flight of stairs, or beautiful layered orchestral numbers that no one pays attention to because they're too busy shooting enemy guards in the face or wondering when the fuck this ladder is going to end.
We're assuming the next level is "low orbit."
But as it turns out, there's been a third flavor sitting in front of our faces this whole time. According to Brooke Spencer of GameMusic@Queen's -- a video game music research unit(!) at Queen's University -- the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country has a musical style reminiscent of '70s/'80s prog rock, complete with short repeated melodies and layered chord progressions. This sets the game apart from other Nintendo fare, which normally features "catchy tunes, simple instrumentation, and pop-inspired harmonies." Is that a diss against Nintendo or prog rock? Answer in the comments!
This raises some questions, though: How and why? As Spencer notes in her paper, DKC was unique in that its soundtrack was composed by someone outside of Nintendo's in-house composition team, David Wise. So while it's possible that this particular style was chosen in order to create a feeling of "dissociation and alienation," it was also possibly used to "capitalize on the 'edgier' market of other game producers such as Sega." Though if they'd really wanted to capture an "edgy" tone, they should've made a game that was scored with nothing but the Sonic drowning music.
"How Many Soda Machines Are In Games (And What Do They Mean)?"
The next time you're playing a game, put down your controller for a few moments and admire the realism of the world you're inhabiting. Look at the bookshelves. Read the posters. Check out the pantries. And if in some dark forgotten corner you happen to stumble across a soda machine, take stock of what it offers. Because we have just the place you can send that information to.
The Video Game Soda Machine Project is a collaborative research venture founded by Jason Morrisette, a professor at Marshall University, which aims to catalog every soda machine to appear in gaming. And when we say "every," we mean it. "Sprunk" from GTA? Get out of here with that normie mess. We're talking deep cuts like "Grog" from The Secret Of Monkey Island, "Juicy Raccoon" from Resident Evil 3, and of course, "Pepsi" from the 2006 shoot-'em-up Quest For Bush, a game made by the actual al-Qaeda.
As of the writing of this article, the latest entry was on January 31, 2020, so this is not some expansive project that's been abandoned for the creator's sanity. So make sure to keep checking in if you want to know what fizzy drinks the main character of Assassin's Creed: Cleveland is into or whatever.
"How Does Playing Pokemon Affect People's Brains?"
If you're anything like us, there's a good chance you've spent the last two decades obsessed with Pokemon. And it's hard not to be. Game Freak and Nintendo have developed a seemingly foolproof formula to keep children, teens, and adults glued to their screens, desperately looking for laser critters in patches of tall grass. But has all that time spent trying to "catch 'em all" somehow changed us?
In 2019, a study by Stanford University found that when pictures of Pokemon are shown to adults who played the games as children, a specific area of their brain, the occipitotemporal sulcus, lights up. When the same pictures were shown to adults who hadn't played the games as kids, aka LOSERS, this didn't happen. This suggests that the countless hours the former group had spent playing the games "rewired" their brains to become more efficient at recognizing the characters.
"So what?" you might think. "Isn't this just how memory works?" Well, not really. Sure, when you see a face you recognize, a specific region of your brain gets goin'. Likewise, if you work with cars for a living, your brain will light up when it sees a car. But as Emma Young at BPS noted, that's as elegant as the system gets. Your brain lights up for cars, but that same area also lights up for everything you like. There's no specific area for cars or faces; it's a one-size-fits-all deal.
That's not the case for Pikachu, though. The part of their brains that lit up for Pokemon didn't light up for any other stimuli, just fuckin' Pokemon. Moreover, the "Pokemon region" (as it's now scientifically known) is located in the visual cortex, which is (relatively) a world away from where the brain processes memories and faces. According to the researchers, it's possible that this happened because we were dumb kids and played the game on a tiny Game Boy screen only a few inches from our tender young eyes. And when you're that age, your brain has a lot of plasticity, and can still shape and form and adapt itself to the requirements of its body. That's right, your brain may have been evolving to help you remember all of the original 150 better.
Obviously, a lot more research needs to be done in this area, and a good starting point would be to study a sample size bigger than 11 people. But it's hoped that if this discovery pays off, it could go a long way toward helping to design effective learning tools for people with autism and other neuro-developmental conditions. For the time being, though, we're just happy knowing that Pokefans are basically X-Men.
For more, check out What Your Favorite Video Game Says About You - After Hours:
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