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Zer0: Simple, challenging, and addictive [review]

There’s something addicting about number puzzle games. As always, the Google Play Store has an astounding amount of games under this category, but the most recognizable names in this genre


Galaxy S7 second opinion — the nicest phone I can’t stand to touch


There’s so much to love here — but that can’t keep me from putting down this phone.

One of the cool things about a major phone launch is watching as the Android Central editors all draw their own conclusions from personal experiences. We generally agree on things like camera quality, overall performance, and the technical capabilities of each handset, but whether we actually want to use any given phone is usually a fascinating internal conversation. It’s the kind of thing that leads us to write things like second opinions on phones, because any good review is a healthy mix of objective and subjective analysis.

For what it’s worth, I think Phil’s review gets a lot of important things right about the Galaxy S7. In fact, if you keep reading you’ll undoubtedly see me draw a lot of the same conclusions. There’s one big thing about this phone that I’m unlikely to get over anytime soon, and it’s going to make recommending this phone difficult for me.

I just can’t stand holding this phone.


How we got here

Watching Samsung’s design language change over the last two years has been incredible. The shift from all plastic to glass and metal isn’t an easy change to make, and it couldn’t be more clear that Samsung is learning fast and making changes as quickly as it can. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge were impressive, beautiful phones that felt oddly sharp when you gripped the corners. Nothing about the design was a deal-breaker, but as a first-generation design there was room for improvement. And, no, I’m not talking about the alignment of the holes on the phone.

You can still tell it’s a Samsung phone by looking at it, but the number of tiny design refinements is impressive.

The Galaxy Note 5 came next. Samsung rounded out the back and smoothed the metal down a bit, and with the exception of a stylus design flaw that was fixed later, this phone felt like a solid improvement on the design of the Galaxy S6. Despite being glass on both sides, my Note 5 has survived by my side for quite a while, and looks just as nice as it did on the day I took it out of the box. As long as you like big phones, Samsung really nailed this one.

The Galaxy S7 looks like a continuation of the lessons learned with the Note 5. It’s compact compared to the other Galaxy S phones — hold it up next to an S5 if you want to be truly impressed — and features not only a pleasantly curved back but a front glass panel that melts right into the frame to complete that nice round feel all the way across the phone. You can still tell it’s a Samsung phone by looking at it, but the number of tiny design refinements is impressive.


So … many … smudges.

The hardware

Actually holding the Galaxy S7 is a different story. This phone doesn’t feel like the Galaxy Note 5, despite looking like they are made of nearly identical materials. The phone feels softer, as though there’s a coating on the glass and metal that doesn’t exist on the Note 5. After using it for more than a few minutes, a buildup of finger oil coats the back the phone. I find myself constantly wiping the phone down to tolerate using it, and while some of that is to be expected with glass it is noticeably worse on the Galaxy S7 than it ever way on the S6 or Note 5.

More than feeling soft, the phone actually is soft. Rene Ritchie, our Editor in Chief over at iMore, called it “glass-tic” in the way it didn’t feel like a nice glass body, and I think that’s close to how I feel. It’s fragile, and not in the “it turns out phones bend if you try to bend them” way. I’ve had this Galaxy S7 for a little over a week now, and the phone is covered in little nicks and marks on the metal rim of the phone and the metal around the camera on the back. I’ve managed to scratch the back of the phone in more than one place already by putting the phone in the same pocket as my keys, which is extra frustrating for someone who doesn’t own metal keys for the home or vehicle. I use a fob for my car, and my phone for my home, which means the key ring was what scratched the back of this phone while it was in my pocket. Meanwhile, my Note 5 has been dropped half a dozen times since I got it and is almost always in the same pocket as my keys. Not a scratch.

Gorgeous, but not unblemished.

I’ve dropped the Galaxy S7 a few times, but never from any great height. The only think I can say for sure is that I’m fortunate to not have broken the glass on the phone yet. A quick search online will reveal that I am lucky in that regard. While my personal experiences and the personal experiences of those around me can hardly be considered evidence of any grand problem, the phone seems remarkably fragile. Which is a shame, because the rest of the phone is actually pretty great.

As fingerprint sensors go, this can easily be counted among the best.

Samsung’s displays are still in a class of their own — no other manufacturer comes close. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t offer an appreciable difference in quality over the Note 5 in most situations, but things like jumping to super brightness mode when outside happens faster. If you look real close, you’ll see a slight color shift in some viewing angles on the S7 that don’t exist on the Note 5, but only when looking at something white, and only if you’re really looking for it.

The fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S7 is another example of being just slightly better than its predecessors. While Samsung’s fingerprint sensor isn’t nearly as easy to set up as the Nexus 6P, once you’ve set it up correctly the experience is remarkably similar. The only thing that would make the experience better would be a better unlock animation from Samsung, but that’s a small thing to complain about. As fingerprint sensors go, this can easily be counted among the best.


Performance is an interesting thing to measure on this phone, for a couple of reasons. Any time there’s a processor split between regions, people want to see if one is better than the other, especially when so many hardcore enthusiasts wanted to be disappointed with the Snapdragon 810 last year. The new architecture of the Snapdragon 820 promises a whole lot of performance with none of the heat issues from the previous generation. Heat dissipation is absolutely not a problem with this phone, even when doing things like screen recording while playing games on the Gear VR for extended periods of time, but the phone isn’t any faster than the Galaxy Note 5. Apps launch consistently with the same load time, browsing isn’t any faster, and the games play the same. That decrease in heat means a decrease in power consumption, though, and that is a much bigger deal on phones like these. The Galaxy S7 will easily outperform something like the Nexus 6P when it comes to launching Vainglory or playing Ingress, but against the Note 5 the improvement is more about the energy required for the phone to be that capable. That may not be what the benchmark crown wants to hear, but it’s significant in its own way.

No, I’m not putting a case on my phone.

Here’s the part where readers skip down to the comments section and tell me to just put a case or skin on the phone and I’ll be happy. Guess what, you’re wrong for several reasons. First, the thin cases that make the phone still feel somewhat close to the shape Samsung intended aren’t protecting you from the things that are wrong here. Even if the corner damage was safe due to a layer of plastic, those cases are incredibly susceptible to particulate invasion, which means sand and grit and all manner of other grossness would get in between the plastic and glass and scratch everything up anyway. Ask anyone who was told to “just put a case on” the old iPhones with glass backs, which frequently resulted in more damage over time because they weren’t properly cleaned on a regular basis. It also doesn’t make sense to slap a giant case on this phone, as it removes the thing that makes the phone special in the first place. It’s sold as a small phone, and I’m not going to turn it into a large phone to keep it safe.


The software

Marshmallow TouchWiz is surprisingly good. It’s snappy, visually appealing, and doesn’t get in the way of Google’s core features. Now on Tap lives in the home button so everyone is free to keep ignoring it until it stops being entirely useless, notifications behave like they should, and Marshmallow core features like Doze actually work. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t Doze quite as well as the Nexus 6P, averaging about 3% battery drain over 9 hours instead of 1.2%, but it’s noticeably better than it used to be.

Most of the things that drive non-TouchWiz users crazy can be replaced. The Launcher still doesn’t sort alphabetically on its own, the included keyboard still throws out email addresses from your contacts when completing normal sentences, and Samsung still thinks the app drawer belongs on the far right of your screen. All of this is easily replaced with whatever you want, leaving only the notification tray for you to deal with. If you’ve been paying attention to the notification tray in the Android N Developer Preview, you’ll see that Nexus users will soon be telling everyone how awesome this thing Samsung has been doing for quite a while now is on their phones thanks to Google.

The things I wish Samsung would change are the things it seems mostly disinterested in changing.

The only thing that confuses me about the software on the Galaxy S7 is the always-on display. It is, without exception, the most useless form of always-on display that exists today. Telling the time is the only thing it does that makes any sense. Last year, Samsung’s Edge Display gave me a glance at the time, emails, who called or messages from my closest friends and family, and even the stocks if I was so inclined. This year we get the time, and nothing else of value. There’s no way to see what notifications actually are when they come in, the calendar widget doesn’t actually do anything, and there’s no way to personalize anything unless you want a silly wallpaper instead of something useful. It’s beyond bizarre, and not worth the 1% to 3% battery you lose by having it on.

More than anything, the things I wish Samsung would change are the things it seems mostly disinterested in changing. I’m using a Verizon Wireless version of the Galaxy S7, which means the phone is full of Verizon apps that I’m never going to use and have to hide because I can’t uninstall them. It also means security patches are going to come late for this model, when Euro versions of the phone already seem to be getting them in a timely manner.

We’ve called for unlocked versions of these phones more times then I can count, but I’m going to do it again. Samsung needs to sell versions of their phones in the US that they control from top to bottom, and they need to do it now.


The camera

There was little doubt that Samsung was going to once again top the charts with the camera in the Galaxy S7. Samsung has been making this a priority for a long time now, and in this generation you get a camera that launches almost instantly and focuses even faster. Samsung’s Camera UI hasn’t changed much, save for the addition of some new camera modes by default, and that’s a good thing. Samsung’s UI ensures all of the important things are a single tap away, and leaves as much of the screen as possible open to seeing what you’re shooting.


Not a ton has changed about the way Samsung processes color or detail from the previous generation of sensors, which is a big deal when you consider the significant differences in sensors between the last year and this year. For images to come out as similar as they do between the S7 and the Note 5 is impressive, but as we’ve said in reviews the real differences can be found in low-light situations. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t handle low light quite as well as the Nexus 6P, but takes pictures so much faster that you’re more likely to get the shot you want with Samsung.

This is especially true when capturing photos of things in motion, something the S7 does well even in low light. Getting a picture of something in motion is tough, and getting a great low light shot is tough. Getting both is incredibly complicated, but something you can do with ease in most situations on the Galaxy S7. It’s a fantastic overall camera, which is exactly what you expect when using a Samsung phone nowadays.


The bottom line

I love what the Galaxy S7 is capable of. I love the way it behaves in the Gear VR. I love the consistently amazing photos I get from it. I love the way the battery crushes what the S6 was capable of, getting me 14 hours of use consistently on Verizon Wireless. It’s like Samsung took the Note 5 and shrunk it down, adding little bits of polish along the way, which is awesome.

But I can’t hold the damn thing, and that’s a problem. I’m constantly concerned about it breaking now, and it sucks that I would rather grab for my Note 5 or Nexus 6P because I don’t have to worry about those phones slipping out of my hand or being damaged simply by existing in my pocket. This is undoubtedly the best phone Samsung has ever made on the inside, but what’s the point if I can’t enjoy the experience?



Amazon teaches you how to build an Alexa-powered device with a Raspberry Pi


Amazon has published a guide for how people can build and test their own device powered by its Alexa Voice Service, which allows hardware makers to build its virtual assistant into their devices. With this new guide, Amazon tells you how to get Alexa Voice Service up and running with a Raspberry Pi.

From Amazon’s GitHub page:

This project demonstrates how to access and test the Alexa Voice Service using a Java client (running on a Raspberry Pi), and a Node.js server. You will be using the Node.js server to get a Login with Amazon authorization code by visiting a website using your computer’s (Raspberry Pi in this case) web browser.

This guide provides step-by-step instructions for obtaining the sample code, the dependencies, and the hardware you need to get the reference implementation running on your Pi.

Of course, to get started, you’ll need a Raspberry Pi 2 circuit board, which you can find on Amazon for about $37. You’ll also need additional hardware, including a microSD card, a micro-USB power cable, and a microphone. Once you’ve got everything set up, you’ll be able to request music playback, set an alarm, ask general knowledge questions, and more.

What is the Raspberry Pi?



Verizon rolling out Wi-Fi fixes for the Galaxy S7, S7 edge


Verizon is now pushing out updates for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. The updates correct Wi-Fi issues that these phones may be experiencing, and changes the software version number to MMB29M.G930VVRU2APB5 for the Galaxy S7 and MMB29M.G935VVRU2APB5 for the S7 edge.

Here’s what you can expect from these updates:

This software update improves Wi-Fi connectivity on Marshmallow OS, and fixes issues including:

  • Trouble connecting to the internet
  • Frequent data disconnections
  • Problems while loading files or web pages

Verizon also says that the update contains “Android security updates,” though following the update, your phone will still be on the February Android security patch.

If you haven’t already received an update notification, you can check for it manually. To do so, simply head to your Settings, About device and then check for the update.



Get Casio’s Smart Outdoor Watch from the Google Store for $499


Casio’s Android Wear-powered Smart Outdoor watch is now available from the Google Store. The rugged smartwatch is ready to face the elements, and features a number of built-in apps, like ViewRanger and Runkeeper, for outdoor activities. You can grab it now for $499.99.

The Casio Smart Outdoor Watch is built for activity, featuring 50-meter water resistance, along with endurance against drops, shocks, vibrations, and more. It also has two display modes, one that uses full color and the complete set of Android Wear features, or a monochrome minimal mode, which only displays the time and date, in order to extend battery life.

You can grab the Casio Smart Outdoor Watch in two colors from the Google Store. One is the standard Orange, while the other is the Google Store-exclusive Olive.

See at Google Store



Developers can submit their Android Experiments for a chance to go to Google I/O 2016


Google wants to see what developers can come up with in new and innovative software for the Android platform. It has announced a contest where entries submitted to the Android Experiment site will be judged by a panel of Google team members, and the top three winners will get a free trip to San Francisco to attend the 2016 Google I/O conference on May 18-20.

Android Central got to see some examples of the unique apps that developer have already submitted to Android Experiments in February at Mobile World Congress 2016. With the new Android Experiments I/O Challenge, those developers could get a lot more attention for their projects. Google says it is looking for a number of things from Android Experiments:

  • Creative uses of Android’s new or distinctive features
  • Projects that explore how we interact with our devices, in small and big ways
  • Unique visual aesthetics
  • Projects that inspire other developers
  • Surprise us – we want to see the amazing things you’re cooking up

Developers have until April 13 to submit their entries into the Android Experiments I/O Challenge. In addition to the top three winners getting the Google I/O trip, five runner-ups will win a Nexus 6P, The contest itself is open worldwide except for a few countries (France, Italy, Quebec, Crimea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan).

Enter the Android Experiments I/O Challenge



Samsung Pay: The greatest challenge for universal mobile payments isn’t the technology


As Samsung prepares to launch its payment service in more countries, the biggest hurdle won’t be the technology itself, or even rivals like Apple or Google.

Samsung Pay has been a slow burn thus far. First announced back at Mobile World Congress 2015, the Korean firm’s mobile payment service is only live right now in South Korea and the United States. It’s expected to expand to more countries very soon, including the UK and Spain.

Samsung Pay has the advantage of being able to use most existing payment terminals, giving it wide support in whichever countries it launches. But that can bring its own challenges. And as the reach of Samsung Pay broadens, it’s more important than ever for people on both sides of the customer relationship to be educated.


Samsung Pay’s not-so-secret weapon against Apple Pay and Android Pay is MST — Magnetic Secure Transaction — which allows it to work with just about any terminal with a traditional magnetic card swiper. Just select your card, authenticate with your fingerprint and hold your phone lengthways over the magnetic reader. By contrast, Apple Pay and Android Pay require newer terminals with NFC built-in. (The kind you’ll find across Europe for use with contactless credit and debit cards, for instance.)

MST — Magnetic Secure Transaction — is Samsung’s not-so-secret weapon.

While Samsung Pay also supports NFC, it’s MST that’s supposed to provide the competitive advantage. Because magnetic swipers are almost universal, the firm can boast that Samsung Pay works just about everywhere. As the company’s ads say, “Samsung Pay is here. And pretty much everywhere else.”

MORE: This is how you’ll use Samsung Pay

In theory, this lets Samsung sidestep one of the major headaches with Apple Pay right now — consistency. As Katherine Boehret wrote for The Verge this week, “if it doesn’t work in enough places, you’ll stop trying.”

“Last month, Apple announced that Apple Pay is available in over 2 million US locations. But, as I’ve experienced, that doesn’t mean that Apple Pay is being used in all of the payment terminals at those locations — or that employees know how to use it.”

Updating terminals is an expensive and slow process — especially in the U.S. where, unlike Europe, there’s less momentum behind contactless credit cards.

MST, however, can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s great because it relies on technology already in widespread use. But that can also present unexpected problems, as your MST-toting Galaxy phone has to interact with hardware that wasn’t specifically designed for it.

Your phone has to interact with older terminals that weren’t specifically designed for it — and the rightly suspicious humans operating that hardware.

It’s reminiscent of trying to use a smartwatch-based boarding pass. In that case, the existing technology is designed to accommodate a piece of paper, (or in some cases a phone) not an entire human hand. In the retail world, magnetic card readers aren’t always placed where it’s convenient to hold your phone. Both are classic early adopter problems.

And as The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler discovered when Samsung Pay first launched in the U.S., finding and using a magnetic reader with your phone is only the first step. There’s also the human angle:

“I got the stink-eye from plenty of merchants, who thought I was some sort of con artist or hacker,” Fowler said. “Few had heard of it, and even if they had they got uncomfortable when I reached over the till with my phone.”

To be fair to Samsung, it’s addressed this issue head-on in its U.S. ads for Samsung Pay — commercials that are about informing the public at large as much as selling a product. (And preparing Samsung Pay users for the bemused looks they may encounter when trying to use it.) Each of these two spots has customers coming up against merchants who insist that their phone won’t work for payments, only to be proven wrong.

I’m going to call the police. I just watched you hack my reader with your phone.

Except in reality that chain of events doesn’t always play out so smoothly. Back in November, Android Central forums poster badkitties encountered a nightmare scenario when trying to pay for a pair of $3,000 earrings with his Galaxy Note 5.

After first having to convince the store clerk that Samsung Pay would indeed work, the poster encountered further resistance from the manager.

“The store manager walk[ed] over and told her there was no way that she was letting me walk out of the store with $3,000 earrings without paying. The clerk showed the manager that the transaction went through and the receipt had already printed. The manager didn’t buy it for a second.” […]

“I tried to show her on my phone what Samsung Pay was. She refused to listen and was already on the phone with someone. I didn’t realize she had called the cops.”

“The cops sided with the store manager and insisted that I must pay for the earrings. I told them to look at the receipt which clearly said I had paid.”

Another AC forums poster, jmy7213, ran into trouble using Samsung Pay at a fast food chain shortly after launch.

“The manager [had] seen me put my phone next to it and process the order. He immediately came over and said, ‘I’m going to call the police. I just watched you not use a card and hack my reader with your phone.’”

Both situations were eventually resolved with a refund in one case, and a free shake in the other. All was well, and nobody went to jail.


Nevertheless, these stories highlight the potential pitfalls of Samsung’s approach — specifically sending a new payment technology at merchants who may not be familiar with it, and relying on the customer to argue their cause. Conflicts, arguments — and yes, calls to the cops — are an inevitable consequence of this.

There are many advantages to Samsung Pay beyond convenience. For one, there’s the security benefit of never exposing your actual credit card number to the store — a huge deal when stories of major retailers’ payment systems being compromised break with alarming regularity.

This also means store clerks and managers are more wary than ever of physical security. And it’s not unreasonable that an employee unfamiliar with cutting-edge mobile tech might be spooked when their terminal magically lights up in an unexpected way.


There’s plenty of blame to go around. Should Samsung do more to raise awareness of folks wandering around with MST-capable Galaxy phones — particularly as Samsung Pay reaches new markets? Maybe — after all, as a service provider it’s Samsung’s duty to ensure that service works smoothly, including the human aspect. But Samsung already puts out commercials, and short of blanketing entire countries with advertising, the company’s options are limited.

Could merchants themselves be more receptive? Perhaps. But for many, allowing a fraudulent transaction could endanger their job or their livelihood.

When it comes to new things involving technology, money and human beings, teething problems are to be expected.

Similarly, users themselves should probably be prepared for some resistance from retailers, especially in the early days of Samsung Pay — and especially from smaller stores less likely to be clued in on the latest developments in mobile payments. Large purchases in particular, like the aforementioned $3,000 earrings, are more likely to spook staff.

When it comes to new things involving technology, money and human beings, teething problems are to be expected. Even in the case of Apple Pay, where the iPhone maker’s logo is displayed on terminals, shoppers can run into employees unfamiliar with the concept of paying with a smartphone. The wider reach of Samsung Pay will understandably increase the frequency at which these teething problems occur. And this is no small concern.

Mobile payments are only going to become more common, as more Apple Pay-capable iPhones and Android Pay-capable handsets launch, and as Samsung expands its own service into Europe. Eventually we’ll hit critical mass, and reaching for a phone to pay will become just as mundane as picking up a credit card or handing over cash.

There’s a promising future ahead. It’s just going to take some time to get there.

Samsung Pay users, be sure to hit the comments and tell us about your experiences of the service!



Fighting depression in the video game world, one AFK at a time

Matt Hughes took his own life in the fall of 2012. He was a freelance reporter covering the video game industry, and before he committed suicide, he sent emails to some of his editors, noting that he wouldn’t be able to turn in more stories for one simple reason: He’d be dead.

His suicide surprised nearly everyone who worked with him. Speaking with Kotaku days after Hughes’ death, his former editors said things like There weren’t any red flags and This was a complete shock. Hughes wasn’t the only person in the video game industry to take his own life that year, and as the tragedies piled up, it became impossible to ignore their commonalities. Complete surprise. No one knew. She seemed fine.

For Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt, two editors who had worked with Hughes and regularly interacted with dozens of other freelance reporters, these suicides were more than a shock. They were a wakeup call.

“As we were more aware of the issue, the easier it was to see it and the easier it was to talk about it,” Pitts says. “The lack of awareness of mental health issues, it’s not exactly passive. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding, and the stigma contributes to this sort of feeling that mental health issues are to be avoided at all costs.”

Pitts and Arendt didn’t want to mourn more of their colleagues — they wanted to help. In 2012, they established Take This, a blog for people in the industry to share their own stories of depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. It was a huge success, with hundreds of people eager to share their stories and hopefully help others.

Today, Take This is a non-profit organization that encourages people in the video game world — players, developers, reporters and everyone in between — to talk about mental health. The group sponsors a space called the AFK Room at a handful of major gaming conventions, providing a quiet area and licensed clinicians for people who feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or suicidal. The charity wants to reduce the stigma around mental illness and show people in the gaming industry that they’re not alone, before it becomes too late.

Before diving into the specifics, let’s take a step back: Mental illness is not unique to the video game world. However, the industry attracts specifics types of people and encourages an environment that may make these problems more prevalent.

Roughly one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That’s 43.8 million people debilitated by depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or other issues at least once every 12 months. Plus, one in five young adults age 13 to 18 struggles with a severe mental disorder at some point in their early lives.

“We have anecdotal data to suggest that that’s much higher in the video game community,” Pitts says. “And we know there are causes for that. We know that the industry contributes to a lot of worsening of mental health symptoms because of the stresses of working on video games, the stresses of changing jobs frequently, unique factors built into video game studios.”

Russ Pitts (seated) discusses the AFK Room’s goals. (Image: Flying Saucer Media)

The video game industry is volatile. Layoffs are common and success can be hit-or-miss at any level, from independent development to billion-dollar AAA studios. “Crunch time” is also an ingrained aspect for many studios — a period of high-pressure work over increased hours, usually right before a game’s release. The 2015 IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey found that 62 percent of developers experience at least one crunch a year.

Independent developer Michael Levall knows how it feels to be pushed to the limit in the gaming industry. He’s currently building Please Knock on My Door, a game about his own experiences with depression, and he sees the mind-melting stresses of development every day.

“I have met many people in our industry who either are or have suffered from depression, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise,” Levall says. “For many of us, our work is our passion. The downside to that is that working overtime leads to burnout, which in itself is a gateway to depression. There is also the economical stress of working as an indie developer, or the stress of knowing how hard it is to find a new job should your studio go bankrupt or your project be shelved.”

Game developers may be more susceptible to living with untreated mental illnesses, as well. In three years of running Take This, Pitts has heard the same thing from hundreds of clinicians and advisers: Generally, the more educated or technically sophisticated a person is, the less likely they are to seek help for mental issues.

“The sense is that because it’s a mental issue and they’re highly skilled in mental areas, they can think their way out of it,” Pitts says. “And a lot of people try that and it doesn’t work.”

Please Knock on My Door was inspired by Levall’s fight with depression. (Image: Levall Games)

It’s not just developers, either. A handful of studies demonstrate that some players use gaming as a coping mechanism for various mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety.

“We know that video gamers demographically are more susceptible to mental health issues and are more likely to be attracted to the community as an escape from these issues,” Pitts says. “And the community is not always positive reinforcement for that.”

Plus, in an industry hungry for new technologies and streamlined solutions, many developers, players and gaming journalists end up working remotely or cultivating online-only relationships. These can be threadbare lifelines; you can’t see body language, tone of voice or other clues that someone might be experiencing a mental breakdown.

“In a digital relationship, you only get what people share with you,” Pitts says.

Gaming conventions like GDC, E3 or PAX throw these facets of the gaming industry into a giant pressure cooker. Many developers attend conventions to find new jobs, which is a stressful task on its own. Or, people go as part of a highly anticipated event with friends, which triggers a kind of self-imposed stress. Many attendees don’t get enough sleep during major events; they’re encouraged to network instead. Meanwhile, conventions are crowded affairs filled with long lines. All of these factors increase the chances of a crisis.

That’s why Take This focused on mental health at conventions first. In 2012 and 2013, when Take This was still a blog, its founders and contributors held panel presentations at some of these big gaming gatherings. They talked about their own issues with mental health and provided resources for anyone else who happened to be struggling. The panels were a huge success. People would regularly walk up to the presenters afterward in tears, asking for hugs.

Take This founders Dr. Mark Kline, Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt. (Image: Flying Saucer Media)

“It was this weird, powerful thing where we realized how desperate people were for affirmation that what they were dealing with was normal,” Pitts says.

Building on this momentum, Take This unveiled the AFK Room at PAX East in 2014. It’s a quiet space staffed by volunteers and licensed clinicians who can speak with people who feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or suicidal at conventions. The AFK Room doesn’t dispense therapy, but it helps attendees get their bearings and calm down — and it’s often the first time some of these people interact with a mental health professional. The rooms generally see 500 attendees per day.

While the AFK Room introduces attendees to local clinicians, it also demystifies the gaming community for mental health professionals themselves. Pitts vets the staff beforehand; it’s an important step because many of the clinicians he talks to preach abstinence right out of the gate. If someone comes into their office and says, “I’m depressed. Also, I play video games,” many clinicians will immediately recommend cutting out games entirely. Pitts doesn’t agree with that course of action.

Gaming is often a coping mechanism for players who suffer from depression and other issues; it’s not the root of their problems. Levall, the developer of Please Knock on My Door, was actually inspired by his own gaming habit and how it interacted with his depression.

“This game was simply called Alone, and with it I tried to capture the grey, lifeless routine I was stuck in,” Levall says. “For example, I didn’t play games because I enjoyed it; I played because I needed to waste time until the clock hit 10PM and I could go to sleep. Alone later on became the prototype I used to lay the foundation for Please Knock on My Door.”

While helping attendees, the AFK Room also educates its clinicians on the importance video games have in some people’s lives.

“That’s the other, secret motive for the AFK Room,” Pitts says. “We bring these people in, in an almost archaeological sense, to give them an experience with the community. So, the guests in the room get the experience of meeting with a clinician demystified, and the clinicians get the experience of working in this community demystified. It was an accident, but it’s great. It works.”

On top of the AFK Room, Take This provides crisis training to staff and volunteers at large gaming events like PAX, PAX East, QuakeCon and GDC. For example, if an attendee is being belligerent in line, that person may not be a troublemaker; they could be having a panic attack or be highly depressed. They might need help, not punishment.

One of Take This’ goals is to give staff a tool other than doing nothing or calling 911. “Most of the time, people can tell when someone needs help, but they just don’t know what to do,” Pitts says.

Take This isn’t all about conventions, though. It aims to start broader conversations about the silent, lethal force that has claimed the lives of too many people in the gaming industry. But, people are reluctant to talk about mental health issues, Pitts says.

“You spend five minutes talking to someone about mental health and they’re going to try very hard to talk about something else,” he says. “That affects us at an institutional level.”

Other people misunderstand mental illness entirely. Take This attempted to set up an AFK Room at one big gaming convention in recent years, but things fell apart when the show’s CEO said they didn’t want to be seen associating with “wackos.” Encounters like this demonstrate the amount of work that Take This has to do in educating the industry.

Developers like Levall are doing their part to start this conversation, too. Please Knock on My Door is a tricky game to develop: Its subject matter, depression, is inherently un-fun. But, Levall has done his best to create something that engages players while offering a look at the darker side of mental health.

“I sincerely believe that it is easier to help someone widen their perspective on a topic while entertaining them — something skilled comedians do to great effect,” Levall says. “While Please Knock on My Door is not about making you laugh, my goal is to leave you with a perspective on mental illness that is wider than when you started playing.”

One of the most common mental health misconceptions that Levall encounters is the idea that people can simply “get over” depression. However, it’s not something that anyone can willfully overcome, just as it’s impossible to get rid of a cold by “trying harder.”

Levall turns this message of compassion and understanding on himself, too.

“I feel like the misconceptions can come from both ways,” he says. “If you have been deeply depressed and maybe even suicidal, you shouldn’t tell someone who is going through tough times that they are not depressed because they haven’t reached the depths you’ve been to. I feel like the key is to be attentive to other people’s situations and accept that we all deal with hardships differently.”

The AFK Room at PAX South 2015 saw 500 visitors per day. (Image: Flying Saucer Media)

Pitts understands this first-hand.

“It wasn’t until the second year of Take This before I saw a therapist for the first time and started treating my own issues,” he says. “I didn’t know. For the longest time, I didn’t know I was dealing with depression.”

As the conversation around mental health grows in the video game community, plenty of other players, fans, developers and reporters may have similar epiphanies. The difference is that, now, they’ll have somewhere to turn.

If you or someone you love could benefit from a supportive community of video game fans, check out for blog posts and expert advice on depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. For those in crisis and in need of immediate help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255. You’re not alone.

Disclaimer: Susan Arendt, co-founder of Take This, is former managing editor of Joystiq, which was owned by Engadget’s parent company, AOL. Prior to working at Engadget, the author was a writer at Joystiq, reporting to Arendt. The above story was conceived and completed independently of this relationship.


52 of the best tech life hacks

You may not know this… but there are several websites and technology-related tips and tricks out there that can totally simplify your daily routine and make your life much easier in general.

For instance, Apple’s charging cords for iOS devices and Macs tend to fray after a few years of wear, which means you’ll have to spend money every few years to replace them (unless you don’t care about them catching fire and ruining everything you own and love). Well, we know a nifty hack that’ll prevent your Apple cords from fraying in the first place.

We’re not even kidding. 

In fact, we know 52 different hacks – and every single one of them will either blow your mind or make you wonder how you ever survived this long without them. Here’s another example: Want to find a direct download to any movie? Instead of using a torrent program, we know a simple Google search trick.

If you’re interested in saving your Apple cords, finding direct download links to movies, and so much more, browse the gallery above. We also plan to update this piece over time, so be sure to bookmark this page and keep checking back.

Oh, and let us know in the comments if you know a great hack worth including.


France fines Google for breaking ‘right to be forgotten’ law

Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law is a boon to privacy, helping individuals hide embarrassing Facebook posts and other “out-of-date and irrelevant” results from search engines. However, many think it tramples on the public’s right to know, as quite a few examples have shown. Everyone agrees that it’s hard to enforce, thanks to the border-free nature of the internet. The law is about to get a new test, because France has slapped a €100,000 ($112,000) fine on Google over its refusal to fully remove results on sites outside the nation.

Since EU laws don’t apply elsewhere, Google at first just deleted “right to be forgotten” requested results from its French domain. However, France pointed out that it would be easy to find the info on a different site and ordered the company to scrub results everywhere. In an attempted compromise, Google started omitting results worldwide as long as it determined, by geolocation, that the search was conducted from within France. Suffice it to say, regulators rejected that idea (it would be easy to get around with a VPN) and fined the search giant.

We disagree with the [regulator’s] assertion that it has the authority to control the content that people can access outside France.

In its ruling, France’s CNIL regulator says that geolocalizing search results “does not give people effective, full protection of their right to be delisted … accordingly, the CNIL restricted committee pronounced a €100,000 fine against Google.” While that’s a slap on the wrist for a $75 billion a year company, Google plans to appeal the ruling. “We disagree with the [regulator’s] assertion that it has the authority to control the content that people can access outside France,” it tells the WSJ.

Via: Wall Street Journal

Source: CNIL

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