The Download: the impact of video games, and healthy brains

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This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.

We may never know how video games affect our well-being

For decades, lawmakers, researchers, journalists, and parents have worried that video games are bad for us—that they encourage violent behavior or harm mental health. These fears have spilled over into political decisions that affect millions of people.

The World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in 2019, while China restricts under-18s from gaming for more than three hours a week to prevent minors become addicted.

However, in recent years, a growing body of research has argued that video games are actually good for us, improving cognition, relieving stress and strengthening communication skills.

The reality, a new study suggests, is that we simply don’t have a good understanding of how games affect our well-being, if at all, demonstrating the complexity of drawing definitive conclusions about how and why playing video games affects us. Read the whole story.

—Rhiannon Williams

How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?

We have often thought of the muscle as something that exists separately from the intellect. The truth is that our brains and muscles are in constant conversation with each other, sending electrochemical signals back and forth. In a very tangible way, the health of our brain depends on keeping our muscles moving.

Exercise stimulates what scientists call “cross-talk” between muscle and brain, and the protein molecules released when muscles contract help determine specific beneficial responses in the brain. These may include the formation of new neurons and increased synaptic plasticity, both of which increase learning and memory. Read the whole story.

—Bonnie Tsui

Required readings

I’ve combed the internet to find you the funniest/important/scary and fascinating stories about technology.

1 Google flagged a father’s medical photos of his son as abuse
When Big Tech’s abuse detection tools get it wrong, the consequences can be extremely serious. (NYT$)

2 Software can do better than ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘other’
In many cases, only a few lines of code are required. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Carbon removal needs a code of ethics
The industry has generated many wild claims. Codes of conduct could help tame the possibility of them turning rogue. (Protocol)
+ Seville is using ancient Persian technology to combat climate change. (Bloomberg$)
+ Companies hoping to grow carbon-sucking algae may be advancing science. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Black market abortion pill websites are thriving
It’s not always clear where the pills come from or how to use them. (WSJ$)
+ Crossing state lines is taking its toll on people seeking abortions. (Blackboard)
+ Where to get abortion pills and how to use them. (MIT Technology Review)

5 NSO Group has a new CEO
As part of a larger internal reform. (FT$)
+ The hacking industry is facing the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Big Tech is preparing for a new wave of “big lie” disinformation.
Critics say its outdated detection and removal methods won’t help protect the midterm elections. (WP$)

7 There is no evidence that student behavior apps work
But America’s schools are adopting them anyway. (not dark)
+ Software that monitors students during testing perpetuates inequality and violates their privacy. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Prostheses are failed amputees
Well-meaning engineers fail to understand what amputees really need from their prostheses. (IEEE spectrum)

9 Inside Reddit’s vile knot market
In addition to selling the images and videos, the community works together to reduce the number of women featured in them. (BBC)
+ A horrifying new AI app swaps women in porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Thai activists are trolling their monarchy
Using tropes from Despicable Me and Harry Potter. (Foreign Policy $)

quote of the day

“It’s just another thing to remind yourself to get on the phone.”

—Deborah Mackenzie, 23, explains why she won’t be joining the ranks of young people using BeReal, an app that encourages authenticity, to The Guardian.

The great story

Video games are dividing South Korea

December 2019

When American entertainment company Blizzard released StarCraft, its sci-fi real-time strategy game in 1998, it wasn’t just a hit, it was a wake-up call. Back then, South Korea was considered more of a technological backwater than a major market. Blizzard hadn’t even bothered to localize the game in Korean.

Despite this, StarCraft, where players battle each other with armies of warring galactic species, was a runaway success. Of the 11 million copies sold worldwide, 4.5 million were in South Korea.

StarCraft and PC bang culture spoke to a generation of young South Koreans gripped by economic anxiety and mounting academic pressures. The social aspect of StarCraft set the stage for another phenomenon: eSports. Read the whole story.

—Max S. Kim

We can still have beautiful things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Drop me a line ortweet them to me.)

+ You heard it here first: here are the hottest colors of 2023.
+ This story about a seal that broke into a biologist’s house is funny.
+ This automated LinkedIn post generator has given me hours of entertainment.
+ How amazing does Catherine Zeta-Jones look in the new Addams family tale, Wednesday?
+ Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson is a tune that breaks laptops.

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