To those who think video games cause violent behavior…

Recently America has had four mass shootings all in the timeframe of one week. I want you to let that sink in. Four mass shootings in one week. Whenever something like this happens, it reignites the heated gun control argument which has been plaguing American politics ever since the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. And some politicians have found a new villain to blame for these acts of atrocity – video games.

While this argument only resurfaced recently, it has been stated ever since video games themselves. The first time worries about games inducing violent behavior in those who played them began when Mortal Kombat was released. In terms of gameplay, it wasn’t different from older fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken, but the game marketed itself on its intense graphic violence. A magazine cover advertising the game showed two of the game characters popping out of the arcade machine and thrashing the players, with the tagline ‘So real it hurts!’. The older generation was shocked by the game, and paranoia over the violence desensitizing kids was so strong it led to Congress passing laws that required manufacturers to inform parents of any ‘sensitive material’ which was included, creating the ESRB. The paranoia grew stronger with the rise of the first-person-shooter genre which spawned games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, where you play as a soldier shooting down enemies. And now these video games are being blamed for indoctrinating violent behavior in those who play them, which could lead to them committing violent acts.

So now that we’ve got the history out of the way, allow me to explain why this argument is a load of garbage. To start, let me take you on an imaginary trip to Japan, which only has a fifth of the US’s GDP, but spends half as much money on video games. Clearly, Japan is much more video-game centric than the US. So by the logic that video games lead to violence, Japan should have even more violence than the US, correct? Wrong. America has over 200 times the number of gun deaths that Japan does. If video games truly were the cause of violence, then gun death would be proportional to video game sales, but clearly, that is not true.

Society has a pattern of creating scapegoats to blame for their problems. Before video games, it was hip-hop. Before that, it was metal. Before that, it was Dungeons & Dragons, and before that, it was the hippies, and before that, it was the television, and before that, it was the radio, and way before that, it was books. Yes, when books first came around, scholars said that the ability to write would lead to people’s brains weakening. Quite simply, people are afraid of things that they can’t understand. The boomer generation doesn’t understand D&D or heavy metal, so they call them Satanist. They don’t understand hip-hop, so they blame it for gang activity. And they don’t understand video games, so they blame it for violence.

But when this scapegoat is brought up in news or politics, it’s because of more than misunderstanding and irrational fear. Think about who is preaching this argument. Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, all hardline Republicans. The reason they blame video games is that they can’t admit the truth.  They blame mental health, they blame the education system, they even go so far to blame ‘a lack of thoughts and prayers’ because they can’t admit the truth. The US has the most relaxed gun laws of any rich country, and the most guns. That’s why they have four mass shootings in one week. That’s why massacres like that have become normalized.

Video games are not the problem.

Area 51 – What will actually happen

You all have probably heard of the now-infamous Facebook event encouraging people to ‘raid Area 51’ on the claim that they ‘can’t stop all of us’, as if the most powerful military in the world can’t stop a horde of unarmed Millenials charging into the most guarded base in America. So far, two million people have signed up for the event, with another one million still checking if getting gunned down by an M134 machine gun fits into their schedule.

So obviously this trend isn’t at its prime, but as we move closer to September 20th, a looming question presents itself; what will happen? Will the raiders actually make it in? Will they all be shot by guards? Or will they simply get turned down at the door? Here are my predictions.

60% chance: Hardly anybody shows up

This is the most likely outcome. Most of the people who joined the event, including the person who made it, saw it as a joke. In the end, the event might be known only for the countless memes it has spawned. Although a few might take it seriously and show up, a handful of civilians definitely can’t raid a high-security military base. It’s actually quite funny to think that after all this hype, the only thing that will come out of it is six disappointed shmucks who just wasted their money on plane tickets to Nevada.

10%: Everybody dies

Even if the sizable group of people shows up for the raid, Area 51 is still the most secure military base in the country, and there is very little probability that a large group of civilians would be able to get it without being shot by security forces.

As this video from The Infographics Show explains, security at the site consists of multiple rings. Storming the first few rings will lead to being detained and most likely imprisoned, but anyone infiltrating the inner rings will be shot without hesitation. Keep in mind that Area 51 was built during the Cold War to test experimental weapons and aircraft, and was designed to handle full-scale military incursions, so a horde of unarmed civilians will not pose any real threat.

20%: Everybody gets arrested

While there might be people stupid enough to raid a highly-classified Air Force base, most people take threats of hostile force seriously, so it is more likely than not that the raiders wouldn’t cross into the lethal area, and are all rounded up by guards. This could also occur if the invading force ends up being small enough to detain before they even have an opportunity. This solution would also be better received publicly, for obvious reasons.

5%: Complete standstill

Hold on, what was that about the press? Let’s backtrack a little; we have about 2 million unarmed civilians protesting against a military which could easily shoot them all on the spot.

While there are many differences, this situation could end up a lot like Tiananmen Square if the government decides to use force on the raiders. While currently, journalists are seeing the raiders as the villains, the whole situation could turn around if 2 million civilians are massacred. Though the probability is low, the government could take this into consideration and refrain from using deadly force. This situation would end up in a standstill, with the raiders too scared to advance further and the guards too scared to shoot them. this might be the one situation where the raiders actually defeat the government, which is subliminally what the whole event is about; defying the government.

5%: The raiders get in

Imagine yourself as one of the raiders in this outcome. You and your comrades run towards the base, triggering a plethora of alarms. Expecting security forces to mobilize, the guards instead let you pass. When you come across a locked door, one of the guards unlocks it for you. You pinch yourself. This must be a dream, you think. Eventually, you make your way into the main building, and you find… nothing. The most mysterious government facility in the country… hiding nothing but dust and cobwebs. That’s when the truth hits. Everything that was inside, everything that you came for, experimental aircraft, energy weapons, UFOs, time machines, Shrek 5… has been shipped out to the other bases.

This is why you don’t give the Air Force 2 months preparation.

 

 

Rational Treasure: How a few simple tricks can change the way you think

A couple of months back, I published a post about behavioral economics and the various biases in human thinking(the link to that post is right here). But I didn’t stop there. I wrote a whole book on the subject: Rational Treasure.

A few of my readers might be thinking, what’s the big deal? There are lots of books written on behavioral economics, like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, or Richard Thaler’s Nudge. But my book is unlike those books, for three main reasons.

The first reason is its simplicity. The target audience for this book is kids and pre-teens aged 9-14. Nobody has ever written books on behavioral economics, or market economics for this audience, which is why I want to be the first. But this book isn’t just for kids. If you’re getting interested in behavioral economics, but you’re intimidated by the current material on the subject, Rational Treasure is a perfect starting point.

The second reason is that instead of being completely non-fiction, the book follows the story of two characters who discover an ancient map to lost treasures. But as they try to find this treasure, the two learn the many faults in the human brain, as well as how to avoid them and how to exploit them.

And the third reason: it has comics!

In case you were wondering who those two are, the one on the left is Ike, and the one on the right is Hugh. And there’s one big difference between the two of them. While Hugh is just a regular, standard, coffee-loving human, Ike is a different species altogether: an economist. And as the two of them progress on their adventure, Hugh falls prey to many of the biases in human thinking, as you can see.

 

Overall, Rational Treasure is a great book for anyone who’s looking for an introduction to behavioral economics. But don’t take it from me! Try reading the book yourself, and comment down what you think of it(buy it over here)!

PS: Before publishing this post, I went to a local Christmas market to sell my book, and we sold out completely!

 

Marijuana: Should it be legalized?

Recently, there’s been one topic that my friends and I could never agree on: legalizing marijuana in Canada.

You could probably guess what their arguments are:

  • Drugs are bad!
  • Drugs kill people!
  • Everything’s been going fine now, why change it?

And while those are some quite valid, logical, arguments, the truth is much less simple.

Just to be clear, I agree that it’s unhealthy to smoke marijuana, just like nicotine and alcohol, and that nobody should do it, this is just my opinion on whether or not it should be legal.

Let’s start by comparing numbers: Around how many people are killed from marijuana overdoses every year? What about every day? The answer to both those questions: zero. There have been no reported deaths from marijuana use alone.  Let’s compare that to alcohol, which is immensely popular, and has been legal for a long time: About 30,700 Americans die from alcohol every year. Alcohol is also more addictive than marijuana. According to a study of 8,000 adults, 9% of people who have tried marijuana became addicted, while the figures for alcohol are 15%.

So why then, is alcohol legal and not marijuana? Well, alcohol wasn’t always legal. From 1920 to 1933, alcohol was prohibited in the USA. So the number of deaths must have gone down, right? Wrong. During prohibition, alcohol became a black market commodity. Bootleggers like John Torrio and Al Capone profited from the sale of illegal alcohol, and many were killed due to organized crime and police brutality. The worst part is,  alcohol consumption was hardly reduced, due to how easy it was to get illegal alcohol. The exact same thing is happening right now with marijuana, but on a smaller scale. Even worse, the ban on marijuana means less access to medical marijuana, causing even more deaths!

Fortunately, Canada is about to legalize marijuana, and while my friends might not realize it, save hundreds of lives.

PS: Sorry I haven’t posted in a long time, I ‘ve been busy writing my book, which will be published soon(post on that coming up!).

 

Do incentives really work? Exploring behavioral economics

In our class, our teacher gives us the opportunity to study our own topic. For my topic, I chose economics. at first, I wanted to study market economics, but I quickly realized that there was a much more interesting field to dabble in: behavioural economics.

Regular economic theory suggests that all humans are 2 things: incredibly rational and incredibly greedy. Most economic ideas are built around this concept. However, the field of behavioral economics challenges that claim, saying that humans aren’t as rational as we assumed. For example, suppose you’re at the store buying a new case for your phone. There are three cases on the shelf:

A low-quality case for $1

 

 

A medium-quality case for $5

 

 

Or a high-quality case for $10

Most likely, you’d buy the second case, because it’s not as bad as the first one, and not as expensive as the third one.

Now imagine that same scenario, except when you go to the store, there’s a fourth case on the shelf. It’s a high quality, waterproof, gold plated case, which costs $50.

There’s no way you’re going to buy that! Sure, it’s really good, but you can’t even afford the thing! That $10 case is looking really good now. You might not even know it, but in the second scenario, you are likely to buy the $10 case, and in the first scenario, you are more likely to buy the $5 case. Imagine how much power the person arranging the shelves has over you and other customers! Just by placing an expensive case on a certain shelf, they can make customers pay more than they usually would!

This proves that humans aren’t as rational as standard economic theory suggests. There are many more examples of this, including an experiment that I, myself conducted, using my own class as subjects.

I told my entire class that I needed to do a survey for my research. But instead of a survey, I handed everybody a word search puzzle and told them to find as many words as possible, in the span of one minute. However, there were three different sheets. One sheet asked them to do the word search and didn’t offer any sort of reward. Another sheet offered them a small Starburst candy as a reward for attempting the word search. And the third sheet offered them a large Mars bar for attempting the word search.

I collected the sheets of each person(after giving them their reward) and compared their offered reward to the number of words that they found. After I laid all the data out, what I found was surprising. Those offered no reward did the best out of everyone on average. And those offered a high reward, the Mars bar, did the worst out of everyone on average! At first, I was completely baffled by this outcome. Normal economic theory suggests that work should increase if the reward increases! However, normal economic theory was devised during the Industrial Revolution. At the time,  most people worked in factories, and their day job would be to do one thing over and over again on an assembly line, like hammering in nails over and over again or drilling in screws over and… you get the idea. Doing work would require absolutely no mental effort at all.

Now let’s go back to my word search experiment. A word search is quite different from a job at an assembly line because you do have to put some mental effort into finding words. For mindless assembly line work, incentives and rewards help one focus on the task at hand. But for even the slightest of cognitive tasks, rewards constrain one from thinking critically and therefore decrease the output of work.

The thing is, most white-collar work nowadays isn’t mindless assembly-line work, but software development and financial work. These, like the word search, are cognitive tasks, and in theory, should be hindered by rewards. So maybe we need to change our economic thinking, to better adjust to these findings.

Game Update: Finally Finished (for now)!

It seems that I have not posted a game update in a long time, despite continuing to work on the game. In fact, I haven’t posted many game updates at all since the project started. But, I have now finished the project! Well, by that, I mean I have finished the IDS project. But the game will continue development as I add more updates in the long run.

To play the new and improved game, you can click on this link.

But for now, let me sum up everything  I did for the project since the game’s first release.

I added sound effects into my game. I learned a new library called p5.sound, which adds sound effects to p5.js Now, every time you get a new notification, a ‘ding’ sound is played. When a virus attacks, a dramatic ‘dun dun dun’ sound effect is played. There are more sounds that I added and more sounds that I will be adding in the future.

I created a system which lets users create accounts and save their best scores on my game. To clarify, users are scored on how much time they can stay alive in my game. Since my game is on a Rails website, I can create an account service, in which users save their scores. On the game over screen, it shows your time alive and your best scores.

I created a new task and a new protein for my game.The new task is about a wave of radiation which hit the cell’s nucleus, damaging its DNA. To survive it, you have to create a gene regulator protein, which costs more resources than a DICER enzyme. But if you don’t, it’s only a matter of time before your cell dies.

I added a new clause into my game: your ATP decreases over time. In real life, a cell is constantly using ATP to keep itself alive. Now in the game, your ATP decreases by 1 every second, and if you have 0 ATP, you die.

I added tutorials to teach players my game. They are in the form of popups which appear when the player needs to do something he/she hasn’t done before. So far I have made tutorials to explain:

  • the purpose of the game
  • how to collect ATP
  • how to fight viruses
  • how to fight radiation
  • how to recycle resources

I will continue making more tutorials as the game continues to be updated.  

Even though my project is finished, I will continue making updates, and I promise I will post game updates to my blog more frequently in the future.

The Rohingya Crisis And My Thoughts On Religion

Recently, Bangladesh has seen many refugees come from the neighboring Buddhist-majority country Myanmar. These are Rohingyas, the Muslim minority in Myanmar. Recently, a few Rohingyas started a militia to fight against the Myanmar government. Though the militia is gone and the government is welcoming of all Rohingyas, the army continues to attack them out of xenophobia, despite having to go against the government. Now, Rohingyas are trying to flee to the neighboring Muslim country Bangladesh. The strangest and most worrying thing about this crisis is that many of Myanmar’s army follows Buddhism, a religion that practices love and tolerance for all people, including those of other religions! It’s absurd! And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Dalai Lama tweeted on the matter:

 

For almost as long as religion was in place, there has been the problem of religions coexisting together. This problem has caused wars, segregation, and hate. Why all of this violence if all religions practice peace and love? Because almost no religious scripture tells of how to deal with those who do not believe in it. The Bible only applies to those who believe in it, so its text makes no note of those who do not believe in it. This same rule applies to every other religious text. Therefore, when religious people are faced with the reality that their religion is not the only one, the natural response is: we are right and they are wrong. Violence and terror all spawn from this response to the problem of multiple religions.

The truth is beyond all the legends, prayers, traditions, dressing, etc, all religions preach the same ideas. They all preach to do good and be kind to others. In this sense, there are no bad religions, but only bad people who misinterpret the religious teachings, or use them as a way to rally the masses.

This does not mean you cannot peacefully criticize other religions. After all, a religion is simply an idea about something. If I told you that I worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you would act as if you had all right to criticize my belief. Yet if I told you I was Christian, you would act as if you were obliged to respect my ideas. In the end, there is a fine line between a silly-looking cult and a legitimate religion, so all ideas should be treated the same way: you can think what you want, and nobody can discriminate against you or physically harm you for what you think, yet everybody has the right to criticize what you think, and you have the right to criticize what everybody else thinks.

 

Game Update: First Version Released!

It’s been a really long time since I posted a game update, and in that time, I managed to make a fully functioning game for all to learn and enjoy. In fact, you can play it right now with this link.

I figured I should give you some brief instructions on how to play, so here they are.

The premise of the game: You are a single-celled organism trying to thrive and live as long as possible. Unfortunately, nature will throw many obstacles at your course. As players overcome these obstacles, they will learn how cells function in the real world.

First and foremost, you should watch the notification area on the left of the screen. It will tell you when important things happen in the game, and is key to surviving long.

Getting Energy:

The first thing a cell needs is energy. This comes in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP for short. It makes it in the mitochondrion(seen above) by burning glucose in a chemical reaction. To get ATP in the game, click the mitochondrion, which opens up its menu. On the menu, click the green button which says Burn Glucose. This will give you 40 ATP and subtract 20 Glucose. ATP is needed to create proteins, which are what get stuff done in the cell, like fighting viruses.

Fighting Viruses:

When your cell does get attacked by a virus, a box will appear in the top-right corner showing you how many viruses there are. The number of viruses will multiply every 5 seconds, and when they hit 1000 or over, your cell bursts open. To stop the viruses, you have to kill them with proteins called DICER enzymes. You make proteins inside the menu of a nucleus. When you click on the nucleus and open its menu, you will see a green button which says ‘Create Dicer Enzymes’. When you click this button it will create 5 DICER enzymes. Each DICER enzyme kills one virus. To make a protein, a cell first needs to encode the instructions for making it through RNA, which needs nucleotides to make. The actual protein is made from amino acids. In the game, making a protein like DICER enzymes subtracts from your nucleotides and amino acids. But if you defend yourself from a virus attack, you get some resources in return.

Earning Resources:

There are many ways to earn resources in the game, such as defeating viruses. One way is to enter the menu of the Golgi Body(shown above).  This will show you 3 buttons, each with the names of a resource. In real life, the Golgi Body recycles all the free-floating resources in a cell to perform other tasks. In the game, clicking on any of the Golgi Body’s buttons will give you some of that resource, but you have to wait sometime before you can get more.

I hope you enjoy the game in its current state. I will add more features into the game, such as more challenges for players to face. My hope is that players will learn more about microbiology while playing the game. Remember to follow my game updates for more information.

Game Update: Large Edition!

There has been a lot done since the last game update. For one, I am no longer creating graphics with d3.js. Instead, I have chosen a game library, p5.js, so that things like collision are easier to program.

I have also been reading my textbook, Essential Cell Biology, a lot, and I’m already on Chapter 8.

I’ve decided that every time I  read a new chapter, I will publish a new post explaining something interesting I learned from that chapter. However, since I read 5 chapters of the book and no post, I’m going to have to stuff a lot into this post. Enjoy!

DNA makes RNA. RNA makes proteins. Do proteins make DNA?

Well, they don’t make DNA, but there are enzymes which hold DNA together and make sure it doesn’t mutate. But certain mushrooms of the amanita genus contain chemicals which break these enzymes, meaning that clumps of cells will no longer be able to function. This causes large amounts of brain damage, muscle fatigue, and organ failure. Doesn’t seem like a good salad topping.

So why is DNA a double helix?

Why is DNA double helix, and RNA isn’t? The answer lies in one of the main functions of DNA: copying. DNA’s double helix shape allows it to copy itself.

How? In a DNA strand, there is one string of nucleotides, labeled A, T, G, and C.  But remember, it’s a double helix, so there are two strings of nucleotides. The first string matches up with the second one: A to T and vice versa, G to C and vice versa. When it’s time for DNA to copy, its double helix unfolds and the two strings split apart. Then, nucleotides come in and make new DNA strands out of the separated strings. How? A nucleotides floating around bond to T nucleotides in the string.  T bonds to A.  G bonds to C.  C bonds to G. Just like that, two DNA strands are made from one.

 

 

How cells produce energy

A lot has happened since I last posted an update on my game. I figured out how to create draggable objects in d3.js, and I’m learning about collision detection to create the nucleus-ribosome transfer. But programming isn’t the only thing I’ve done for this project. I’ve also been reading a textbook called “Essential Cell Biology”, and I got the idea to share some of the information on my blog.

Cells are more complex than any man-made machine, yet they are smaller than anyone could imagine.  They support all life, yet each one is tiny compared to the size of the organism it supports. The cell is such a remarkable thing, able to do things way beyond its petite size. But, how do cells power all of their functions?

As you already know, the human body gets its energy through eating. But what happens to all those molecules inside the food? Well, they go into the cell’s mitochondria. Before we go on, I actually want to mention that mitochondria were once independent single-celled organisms! These early prokaryotes which mitochondria descend from were the first organisms to find an efficient way to produce energy. At some point, these organisms were swallowed up by eukaryotic cells through a process called endosymbiosis, and they evolved cooperatively over time, with the prokaryote becoming a new organelle and the eukaryote evolving to use the energy the mitochondria provides.

Now, what happens in the mitochondria? Well, a ton of complex molecules like carbohydrates and sugars all go into the mitochondria which constantly rips them apart and mashes them together until they generate enough of a special molecule called Adenine Triphosphate, or ATP for short. ATP has a special structure which allows it to power organelles such as the ribosomes, which generate proteins which perform functions all around the cell and the rest of the body.