Computer Gaming

Street Rod, released in 1989, was set in 1963. It encouraging lawless behaviour on game streets. Note, in particular, the poor quality of the graphics. This was not important on early computers, such as an Amiga, where the best screen resolution was 640×512i (PAL) with 16 colours.

If people think that gaming is a marginal activity, they should reassess their world view. The revenue from computer games exceeds that of the music, film and television industries combined. The production of a game can employ 500 people, many of them engaged in providing different forms of artwork. People under the age of fifty, spend much of their free time gaming. Those over, not so much.

The ten countries with the largest consumption of computer games are, in ranked order: USA, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, UK, France, Canada, Italy and Brazil. The source for this information provides revenue in USD, and the number of players. In terms of production, 2020, Swedish gaming companies ranked ninth in the world, and generated an annual net turnover of 20.8 billion SEK.

Every game involves a game-world with its own rules, that may differ significantly from the reality the player normally lives in. The better able the player is to adapt to these changes, the better able the player should be able to score, and ultimately to win the game. In many games, there is also an element of chance.

In some games, having control over the graphics (or at least better control than any opponents) is necessary for the player to win. In many games, winning simply means completing the game.

For the record, my list of favourite games has not changed much over the decades, and are not demanding with respect to graphics. In chronological order the ones I remember are: Oregon Trail (1971), Flight Simulator (1982), Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1985), Sim City (1989), Postman Pat (1989), Street Rod (1989) and Minesweeper (1990). There was also a train simulator, with a forgotten name.

Of these, playing Postman Pat involved the most work. Since it was impossible to obtain an overview map while playing the game, our family visited the entire game world, and recreated the map on paper. For someone with a flawed sense of geography, this was very helpful, possibly allowing me to even beat children, as long as they were very young.

In my teaching career I have used Sim City to introduce the concept of simulation to younger students, most typically a three hour session provided to students at the three junior secondary schools in the Leksvik catchment area. My son tells me that traffic congestion makes it difficult for the game population to exceed about 10 000 people, on a first attempt. He must have inherited his game playing capability from his mother, since he managed to build a city of 150 000 people, on his first attempt.

Non-favourite games include Railroad Tycoon (1990) as well as programs that imitate board and card games, such as monopoly or chess. Railroad Tycoon is less about simulating a transport system, and more about building and managing a company that happens to be a railroad. This is done by investing in track and stations, and by buying and scheduling trains. To win the railroad must be built within a specified time.

To answer the most common question I have ever been asked about computer gaming. Yes, I am acquainted with, but have not played: Minecraft (2009), Pokémon (1996, in card format) or Donkey Kong (1991).

It should now be obvious that I am living in the past with respect to computer gaming. My relationship with board and card games is equally problematic non-existent.

There is one game that I have been considering, NIMBY Rails, which is an open-source transit simulation developed by Carlos Carrasco, from Barcelona, Spain. NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard, which is a common approach to anything requiring change. The game includes content from Open Street Maps, that contains a slightly simplified variant of the entire earth, so that players can construct a transit/ rail system anywhere on the planet. There are detailed rules built into the game that have to been discovered through trial and error. It was launched in 2021.

The first computers used by our family for gaming were an Amiga 1000, soon replaced with an Amiga 2000. Most of the games listed above were first played on it. After that we have owned Windows and Mac machines. With the children becoming adults and capable of making their own decisions, the oldsters use Acer Swift 3 laptops with assorted Asus machines running Linux Mint 21.2. We also have hand-held devices (Asus Zenfone 9) running Android 13.

One of the challenges gamers faced during the pandemic was the lack of GPUs = Graphical Processing Units, usually bought in the form of a graphics card that is inserted into large cases they would call their gaming rig. There are, of course, more portable computers that can be used for the same purpose.

During the pandemic, there was another group of people wanting GPUs: cryptocurrency miners: individuals, companies, organizations, (some criminal and evading paying taxes in any form), who want to use the equipment to produce bitcoins, and other types of cryptocurrency. This production requires enormous amounts of electricity, and these miners want to equip their mining rigs, which look more like servers, with large numbers of the fastest possible GPUs.

For GPU manufacturers this explosion of mining demand created a public relations challenge. The two dominant companies are Nvidia and AMD = Advanced Micro Devices, in previous incarnations, especially their Radeon GPUs. They are now restricting sales of GPUs as add-on products, and prioritize selling them to OEMs = Original Equipment Manufacturers, who put them in new, expensive computers most often designed and labelled as gaming rigs. This created a problem for some gamers, who could/ can no longer upgrade their rigs.

There are several areas where graphic content can provoke conflict. The first is internet throughput, usually measured in k- or M- or Gb/s. An ISP = Internet Service Provider, will provide a range of throughput at various price points, and it will be up to the consumer to decide which one. The current base rate from our ISP is 150 Mb/s, but both 500 and 1 000 Mb/s are available. We have a base rate subscription.

With the onset of Putin’s war in Ukraine, and especially after he stopped/ limited gas sales to Europe, it became economically unviable to mine cybercurrencies! This meant that there was a sudden increase in the number of GPUs on the used market. Unfortunately, not all of these GPUs have a configuration suitable for gamers. Fortunately, Inexpensive former mining-GPUs can be suitable for video-rendering. Unlike gaming machines, rendering machines do not need to connect to a screen. They do not even need to be quiet.

The two next areas involve screen characteristics. Every screen has a specific resolution. In 1988, screen resolution was typically 640×512i (PAL) with 16 colours. In North America, NTSC, the resolution was less. Today (2023), one common resolution is FHD (Full High Definition) = 1920 x 1020 pixels aka 1080p HDTV video format. It has a 16:9 aspect ratio and about 2 megapixels of content. The p stands for progressive scan, i.e. non-interlaced, and is the standard on computer screens. The other dominant standard is 4k UHD (Ultra High Definition) = 3840 × 2160 pixels is the dominant 4K standard, adopted in 2014, with the same 16:9 aspect ratio, and 8 megapixels of content. This, increasingly, is the dominant standard on television sized screens, typically between 40″ = 1 000 mm and 70 inches = 1 780 cm, diagonally.

Human vision varies. A person can process 10 to 12 images per second and perceive them individually. At higher frequency rates these images are perceived as motion. The most common preferred minimum frequency rate is 50 Hz, with that being a common frame rate in Europe or 60 Hz in North America, although some have no problems watching video at 30 Hz. Many gamers, however, are prepared to pay extra for a 144 Hz screen, although I personally don’t think they can improve their perception, by increasing the frequency. The highest frame rate currently available is 240 Hz. While there are some algorithms that can be used to reduce the amount of processing needed, a frame rate of 120 Hz, will require 4 times the processing as a 30 Hz frame rate. Compared to FHD at 50/ 60 Hz, 4k UHD at 120/ 144 Hz, will require 8 x the processing power.