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Free Game Spotlight: Viridi


Developer: Ice Water Games
Publisher: Ice Water Games
Release Date: Aug. 19, 2015

I have no idea why in the world I kept seeing articles pop up for this game, but it seemed for awhile they were literally everywhere. I think that we even joked about it during one of our meetings. Viridi is a much more an experience than a game, in my opinion. However, I remembered seeing it and it is free, so I downloaded it and ‘played’ for a few days.

You nurture a pot of succulents (plants).

You can load up the game and you get to pick your first planting experience. You pick your pot. I picked the concrete colored one with the crosses around the border. I was prompted to pick a grouping of plants and I picked the most colorful group, with the Agave ‘Blue Glow’ in the center. I was brought to a screen where I was able to pull the weeds from my plant (which is a bit confusing for an indoor plant) and watered my growing plants. I named the snail that moves around the lip of my pot Bubba, after my dog, and I have fun spraying him with water. I have no idea why. You can pull plants out and plant new ones. I obtained my ‘weekly free seed’ of Senecio roweyanus, which I promptly planted at the edge, because it looked cool.


Upon returning to the game, you can pull more weeds and water your plants. They grow; faster than a normal plant, but still fairly slowly. So I checked out the nursery, which is just their ‘Main Menu’. You can purchase (with real money) a number of different types of seeds (at least .09 cents, at most .39 each) that you can add to your pot. Dig up any plants you don’t want and purchase more locations to place more pots. For $3 you can purchase the key to the Cat House (another pot location) and $5 gets you The Key to the Apartment (another pot location) thus giving you 3 pots of plants to look after.

It is very much a meditative experience. It is beautifully designed and the music is soothing. I do love that each plant is explained. It’s official name, common name, native location and subtle details of each plant are listed. It’s adorable and probably amazing for someone who knows far more about plants than I do. I sat down fairly stressed today as I was looking back in on my plants and do find myself much calmer and more relaxed. If you want to relax and love plants or pretty things, this is the game for you.

You can find it here.

In the Age of the Geek, the Hate is Too Strong


When I was growing up, I kept most of my nerdy shit to myself. No one at school knew I played Magic: the Gathering, painted Warhammer armies or played more tabletop games than they could name (which was probably none). I was already an outcast with zero friends, why make it worse for myself by sharing that which I loved and occupied most of my waking moments?

All of that has changed. The nerd flags are flying proudly enough that I will (and have) stopped people for their Firefly t-shirt, Vampire: The Masquerade pin or Star Wars car decal. Of course, this is still thought of as weird now that nerd is a little more mainstream and the culture isn’t what it was even 10 years ago. There used to be this feeling of a secret club and we were so excited when we found each other, but now I encounter far more glares than excited chatter.

I’ve noticed a trend on social media that I find disturbing. Now, before I go into this rant, I am all for free speech and saying what you want but somewhere we lost some niceities, please let me explain.

I recently posted a meme that I saw flying around, “If you tattooed one song title on your body, what would it be?” and my good buddy Vince responded with ‘Imagine.’ For those of you who don’t know, it is a song by John Lennon that is quite old and by far one of my least favorite songs, mainly due to the fact that we sang it in choir (yes, I was in choir) and we sang it at Nausium. It was big at the time, so not only did I sing the crap out of this song I already wasn’t a fan of, I also had to hear it at length. I responded with, “Sorry, dislike.” He responded with a frowny face. Now, I don’t know if this actually ruined his day or not. I’m unsure, but the point is that I didn’t need to say it. Saying that I disliked it didn’t prove anything. It didn’t make the world a better place. In fact, in that moment, I doubt he smiled. So I robbed the world of a smile which, to me, is sinful.

I’m sure you are searching for a point in all of this ramble, but I assure you that I have one and it’s simple. We don’t have to advertise everything we don’t like. Honestly, who cares? Of course there are exceptions to this. Food being one. You don’t want to go to a friends house and eat something you can’t stand because you’re afraid to tell them what you didn’t like. Clothes shopping is important to state what you do and don’t like. These are acceptable, but that isn’t the trend I’m seeing. What I’m seeing is people boasting about something they like, love, adore and the response being a list of 39 reasons their friend doesn’t like it.

I’ve sat and listened to friends and strangers talk at length about the things they love that, at the time, I had no interest in. I could see the joy on their faces, the excitement, the passion. It feels so lost anymore, but I can see all of it as they explain My Little Pony, Warhammer, their favorite writer or their favorite game. They are sharing their love with me and seeing their joy brings me joy, so of course I pay attention. I recently started watching My Little Pony  with my daughter and I love it. If I had stopped them and said I didn’t like their interest and explained why, what would that have accomplished? I would have wiped the joy from their faces and possibly disappointed them. We are given so few chances to gush about the things we love.

Even Vanri looked at my farm on Stardew Valley because I loved it and I put so much work into it. She asked questions and made comments; it made me so happy because she was showing interest in something I enjoyed. She could have told me no and explained that she wasn’t that interested in it as I was, which I knew, but sometimes excitement takes over and you just want to share it with someone else. What did it cost her? Some time? It’s worth it just to make a friend happy.

I’m asking us to dial back on the hate, even just the simple dislike. Let someone rant and ramble on about what they love. Don’t post that negative comment on a post about someone’s happiness. There is a lot of hate going on in the world, a lot of negative. Let the positive reign just for a little bit.

This Month in Gaming History: October

This Month in Gaming History: October


Here it is again, my favorite time of the year. October. A time to remember old traditions and a time for treats…or is it tricks? Which reminds me, we ought to take a moment to remember the games of old.

Here is are some games that have been released this month in history.

Sega Genesis


Sega Genesis was released in October 1988 in Japan. This was Sega’s first console. The Genesis was later sold in America in 1989. The player would use a cartridge that would be inserted into the console to play the games. This gave the player access to many different games that they would purchase.

Monkey Island


On October 1990 LucasArts released a game called Monkey Island. Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure game. The player would assume the role of the young protagonist who dreams of becoming a pirate and gets to explore fictional islands while solving puzzles.

Tomb Raider


Oh, Tomb Raider. I have to gush a bit here, readers. Lara has been something that many females, not even gamers, hold dear. Released in October of 1996 by Eidos, players were given a female protagonist who solved puzzles, fought and was sexy all at once. Lara Croft was a chance to play a fleshed out character who was as cool as Indiana Jones and also happened to be female. I think that is the reason why so many of us hold Lara so dear. That and the adventures are just fun to play. 

Grand Theft Auto


Grand Theft Auto was first released by Rockstar Games in October 1997. The player would choose a playable character. Then the player is allowed to do almost whatever they would like with a limited amount of lives. The goal is to commit different crimes for respective syndicates.

Age of Empires


Also released in October of 1997 was Age of Empires. Age of Empires was a series of computer games that focus on events of the past and the building of, well, empires. Multiple spin off games have been released in this highly successful series.

Call of Duty


The first game of the Call of Duty series was released in October of 2003. It is a first person shooter game. Call of Duty had its start on Windows and then came to be on other gaming consoles. Call of Duty is a highly popular shooting series that has also been graced with many spin-off games.

There you have it, my frightful friends. Lots of treats and no tricks. Happy haunting and gaming this month from your favorite Bard.

Happy Halloween and always keep sparkling!

You Can’t Please All the People All the Time


Recently the developer for World of Tanks was asked, as part of a larger discussion about women in esports, whether he would do anything to make his game more appealing to female gamers.  His response was very on the nose, and highlights a couple of things I’ve noticed over the last few years with a higher demand for representation that has been logical and measured from some, and completely irrational from a few.  What he said was:

Not necessarily. I think there’s very little we can do to make photorealistic tanks appealing to females.

Now, on one hand he has a point.  World of Tanks is a very specific type of game.  It’s a wargame simulator that strives to present historically accurate battlefield scenarios involving tank combat.  That’s going to appeal to a very specific demographic.  Of course there are women out there that like historical wargames, photorealistic tanks, and combat sims.  I’m 100% sure there are.  Just as sure that there aren’t as many of them as men that like the genre, and as sure that the few women who do like it wouldn’t want it changed to reach this nebulous ‘broader demographic.’  Too often, demand is put on developers to try and make everyone happy, and many try, and fail.  We see them attacked from all sides for including this, or excluding that, or including it wrong.  We saw it with Assassin’s Creed, heavily criticized for a lame excuse for not including female characters, then criticized for including them wrong, or including them only as a marketing scheme.  It was a much-needed change to add the option, but they still got beat up.

On the other hand, I think he misses something.  Like I said, some women like World of Tanks.  The game is already appealing to those women who it was going to appeal to.  I know the developer wasn’t blindly dismissing those gamers, but it servers a larger point.  Different types of games will always appeal to a certain type of person, despite gender.  Women and men are both competitive to different degrees.  You don’t always find fewer women playing FPS games or wargames because those games don’t appeal to women.  I know a lot of women that enjoy those types of games, are competitive and love the action, violence, and chaos of those them.  Some of them don’t play them for other reasons, which can be addressed, but a lot don’t and never will.  It’s not because those games are missing some hook they need in order to play.  Some gamers, men and women, just don’t like those games.  My wife, as few games as she does play, would never be interested in Battlefield, no matter what they changed about it.

In World of Tanks’ case what could they do?  How was it even a legitimate question?  I don’t like Japanese dating sims, and there’s nothing a developer should, or could, do to make me want to play one.  In all likelihood any change they did consider would only make it worse for the current player base, and not win me over anyway.  That’s a little specific, however.  Imagine instead a romance novel publisher was asked what they planned to do to draw in more male readers.  Books in general already serve a wide market, with a plethora of genres that appeal to different demographics.  I would hate to see what someone’s idea of a romance novel that appeals to the average male would look like, but I have a feeling it would no longer appeal to the average romance novel demo.  The only logical answer is, nothing.  There’s nothing to do.

When we’re talking about wargames like this one, the women who like them will like them, and the women who don’t, won’t.  Likely any changes that anyone would consider are the same insulting, superficial changes we see often in FPS games like pink gun skins, or in this case tank skins.  No one really thinks women are avoiding this game because they can’t have a pink tank, right?

This is much bigger than a single question about one game however.  It’s a trend we’ve been seeing grow over the last few years.  Many games, and entertainment in general, can stand to diversify.  It does, however, come with a caveat that is often recognized by the vast majority.  Sadly the vast majority is usually quieter than the vocal minority.  Recently The Mary Sue published an article that, nearly in the same breath, criticizes the upcoming live-action Mulan for casting a white character, and one that is ‘too Chinese’.  That caveat is that is has to make sense.  Are we to no longer tell stories about a group of guys that go on a road trip, because we can’t tell a story about all guys anymore?  What about a sisterhood of girls with migrating pants, need a male character because it’s not diverse?  Do we shove pink, rhinestone tanks into WWII because we need to draw in the preteen female gamer, or do we stick with a little realism because they won’t like it anyway?

The moral of the story, ladies and gents, is if you’re a creator, artist, writer, developer, or whatever, don’t try to please everyone.  You can’t.  If you try, you’ll fail, and it won’t always be something you can bounce back from.  There are people out there that just can’t be happy with anything, they aren’t your audience.  I’m begging you all to stop trying.  Stop being swayed by the one person that thinks Tracer’s (Overwatch) pose is too sexy, or that Marcus Halloway (Watchdogs 2) is too ethnic.  It’s your creation, your art, and your vision.  If it’s not something people want to see, you’ll know when they don’t buy it, but at the end of the day if you just create to satisfy the vocal minority, they’ll never be enough to keep you creating.

Review: Hero of the Kingdom II

Dev/Pub: Lonely Troops
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2016
Platform(s): Mobile, Mac, PC


Hero of the Kingdom II is a point-and-click-style adventure game with great artwork that brings a 90s nostalgia to the gameplay experience. Reminding me – look and feel – of games like King’s Quest, Betrayal at Krondor and the like. I immediately felt at home when I started playing.

What’s it about?
You and your sister leave your village after tragedy strikes. You find yourselves at a small coastal village, where you are taken in by an old man who seems to long for a family. There, you help the village and your sister until Pirates attack and take her from you. You repair the village and set out to find her.

You meet new people along the way, complete quests, learn to fish, find lost treasure and so on and so forth. You gain items, experience, gold and friends while you explore the fantasy landscape. You make your way through small farms, large cities, battle snakes, giant spiders and even zombies.

What did I think?
It’s an entertaining game that I’m about halfway finished. I’ve done one Let’s Play and am finishing the game up on my Twitch Stream. You come across of ton of different quests, most require you to help someone or do something. Others require you to find a lost item, which can be harder than it sounds due to the items being drawn in so effortlessly to the surrounding landscape. It’s simple and entertaining and exactly what I need right now. I enjoy the nature of the game, the lore behind it. The music and sounds are a bonus and it’s appealing to stare at for hours on end.

Do I recommend it?
If you enjoy simple, yet entertaining, then you’ll have to check it out. You can find it on Steam for $7.99.

Watch my let’s play here:

Games to Get Excited About – October 2016

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by Michael Wells

Welcome back to another installment of Games to Get Excited About. For a few months now, we’ve been playing around with the format of this column but now that I’m taking it over for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided on a hybrid approach. Each month I’m going to call out an upcoming game that I think is worthy of attention and give a detailed preview of why I think it may be worth paying attention to. After that, I’ll give a brief rundown of any notable releases coming in the month ahead.

So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Dishonored 2


Spoiler Warning: This entry discusses the plot and characters of the first Dishonored

Dishonored 2 is the sequel to the 2012 stealth action game Dishonored. Dishonored was a critical success and ended up being a bit of a surprise hit for publisher Bethesda and developer Arkane Studios. After four years Arkane is back with a sequel and is hoping that gamers are going to be up for another trip to the Empire of the Isles.

The wronged Imperial bodyguard of the first game, Corvo Attano, returns as one of two playable characters in the sequel. Players can now choose to experience the story through Corvo’s eyes or through the eyes of his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin. Though the levels they explore will be the same, the two characters have different abilities and powers, meaning that they may approach challenges very differently.

So, what’s worth getting excited about? Well, let’s talk about what made the first game so good.

Superb Level Design

A great deal has been written about a particular level in Dishonored. In fact, as soon as I mentioned the game, I’m betting a few readers thought to themselves, “Dishonored, that’s the game with the party, right?” The fourth level of the game, “Lady Boyle’s Last Party,” is often brought up in discussions about truly great gaming levels. It’s easy to see why, too. The level is novel, takes place in an intricately designed space that incorporates not just a mansion but the quarantined streets around it. Players make their way to the party only to discover that it is a masquerade party and they have no need to skulk around as their mask allows them to fit right in.

The level is cheeky, full of sly character moments, and offers a number of ways to dispatch your target. Like the best levels in immersive sims such as Deus Ex, it is full of little discoveries that make you realize that you could have approached your mission in a completely different way and encourages you to play through again to experiment. What I think a lot of people miss though, in their, rush to praise “Lady Boyle’s Last Party,” is that almost every level in the game is as good. They play with your expectations, let you get familiar with the various powers and tools at your disposal, and surprise you by letting you discover how all the pieces fit together.

The thing that I like best about the level design in Dishonored is the way that levels help to tell the story. “The Flooded District” takes place at a time when, as a character, Corvo has been betrayed and left for dead. The level is very long and keeps up a sense of being unprepared in hostile territory. As you scrounge for tools and elixirs you fall into a mindset of desperation which feels like a mirror for what the character must be going through. Later, you return to an area that was previously the game’s mission hub to find it crawling with enemies. Your familiarity with the space and all of its hidden nooks and crannies lets you feel like a canny predator even in the face of overwhelming numbers. It takes what is a moment of triumphant return for the character and makes you, the player, feel powerful and in control.

A Fascinating World


Dishonored takes place in the fantastical city of Dunwall. Dunwall imagines a place where the early excesses of the Industrial Revolution met the horrors of commercial whaling. It is a grim place but it feels fully realized. In both the broad strokes and tiny details Dunwall sucks you in and invites you to discover more of its beauty and depravity. The second game is taking us to a different region of the game’s world. I am hopeful that it will be just as fascinating and intricate as Dunwall.

DLC Done Right

DLC is a sore spot for many gamers but I think that Arkane really got it right for Dishonored. Dishonored has two pieces of story DLC, “The Knife of Dunwall,” and “The Brigmore Witches.” Rather than continue the story of Corvo, the DLC campaign puts you in the roll of one of the game’s antagonists, the assassin Daud. The DLC features all new levels which continue to play with design ideas and new challenges, building on the work of the base game. The DLC campaign also gives Daud a voice as opposed to the mute Corvo. Not only was the DLC and great value, offering another full game’s worth of levels, it also was clear that Arkane was still being incredibly ambitious about what they could do with the Dishonored formula.

More of a Good Thing

Dishonored 2 has some large shoes to fill. Not only is it the follow up to a very impressive title, it’s coming out when gamers are growing increasingly jaded about pre-release hype and developer promises. The information that Arkane has shared so far makes it seem that they paid a lot of attention to how players approached the previous game and want to expand on the elements that players enjoyed. Many players in the first game decided to play the game without using any of Corvo’s supernatural powers. When Arkane saw how popular that play-style was with the player base, they decided to add a specific no powers mode to Dishonored 2 which players can select at the beginning of the game.

In the end, my hope is that Arkane has continued to refine and polish the Dishonored formula just as they did with the first game’s DLC. If they have, and if they have managed to transition to the the new generation of gaming hardware, then Dishonored 2 could be something very special. Dishonored 2 is currently scheduled to release November 11 in North America for the PC, PS4, and XBO.

Notable October Releases:

0dac02915226b21c1fe9dea6c48d4b21_248_krDragon Quest Builders

A number of games have tried to capture a bit of Minecraft’s success over the past few years. One of the more high profile attempts is Square Enix’s Dragon Quest Builders. The game takes the familiar monsters and characters of the Dragon Quest series and plops them down in a world of blocky landscapes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever been in the same room as Minecraft. Impressions from the game’s Japanese release were generally positive so I am thinking about giving this a try.

Paper Mario Color Splash250px-pmcs_boxart

The Paper Mario series makes its debut on the Wii U late in the system’s life cycle. Paper Mario games have gone through a lot of changes through the years and Color Splash seems to mostly follow in the design footsteps of 3DS series entry Paper Mario Sticker StarSticker Star was a divisive entry in the franchise so Color Splash may not be a slam dunk recommendation. Still, it promises to have some great art and the zany writing that has been a hallmark of the series since the beginning. If you’re a fan and you own a Wii U, Color Splash might be worth checking out.

3125647-playstationvrPlaystation VR

Ok, so this one isn’t a game. The consumer VR revolution continues in October with the Playstation VR. The price tag is lower than its PC competitors but still fairly prohibitive. Preview impressions seems solid with concessions to the PS4’s weaker processing power. Like the Kinect before it, console VR will live or die based on the games that use its functionality. I’m hopeful that it turns out well but we’re going to have to see if the software support is there. Fingers crossed.

That’s it for Games to Get Excited About for October. Are you looking forward to Dishonored 2? What October release are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments.

“How Much is Enough?” Science, Journalism, and the Way We Think About Video Games.

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There is a habit that has been said to cause damage to the eyes, the brain, and the general nervous system.  Experts have linked it to insanity, sterility, and premature death.  It was thought to damage people’s morals, corrupting them with its addictiveness and inciting them to infidelity and other evils.  Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote that, “this kind of stimulus, unless counterbalanced by physical exercise, not only wastes time and energies, but undermines the vigor of the nervous system.”(1)

What was this dangerous habit?  Reading novels.

It seems silly now, but in the 17 and 1800s, reading fiction was considered a dangerous vice.  These days, it’s a virtue.  We recognize the power and value of books, and do everything we can to convince our children to read.  Maybe there are books out there that aren’t enriching.  Not all books are appropriate for all people.  Maybe some contain dangerous ideas.  But not all novels are the same, and the condemnation of the entire medium is laughable.  And yet…

And yet, two hundred years later, we’re doing the same thing: condemning an entire medium as dangerous and morally corrupt.  This time, the medium is video games.

A recent Daily Mail article(2) has the Real Women of Gaming in an uproar.  The title practically screams at readers: “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS a week or it will damage their social skills” (emphasis theirs).  Now, the Daily Mail is not exactly the first source I, personally, would go to for reputable news, but it is a mainstream media outlet with a huge readership.  If for no other reason, we should take the article seriously because it could influence the attitudes of millions and inform the ways our global culture views video games in general.

The subject of the inflammatory article is a study published in the Annals of Neurology.(3)  Only the abstract of the AoN article is available to the public, but the differences between the study itself and the way it was portrayed in the Daily Mail are apparent, even without the full text.  The abstract states: “The weekly time spent gaming was steadily associated with conduct problems, peer conflicts, and reduced prosocial abilities.”  Fernandez’s wording is a little different: “Playing video games is good for children’s brains – but only if they play no more than two hours a week.  More than this increases the likelihood the child will get into trouble at school with their teachers, fight with their friends and have reduced social abilities.”

It’s important to note that Pujol et al. only found an ‘association.’  This is what science does.  It collects evidence, looks for patterns, and notes when those patterns are similar.  What scientific studies do not do is tell us why patterns are similar, why they are associated.  Pujol et al. conducted an observational study, rather than a randomized controlled trial, so their results tell us even less.  We don’t actually know that playing video games for more than two hours per week causes disciplinary problems and reduced social abilities.  It could be that social and discipline problems cause children to play more video games.  It’s also possible that they’re both caused by the same external factor, something that the study didn’t measure.  The inference that gaming ‘increases the likelihood’ of behavior problems was Fernandez’s alone.

Conclusion-drawing is a problem endemic to scientific reporting in mainstream media outlets, made that much worse by the fact that the public do not have access to primary sources.  Scientific publications are locked behind paywalls.  Often, the only way to access them is be associated with a university or research institution with a subscription to the journal or to pay upwards or $50 per article.  This means that the only science news that many of us have access to has been filtered through media outlets that exist to sell advertisements, and therefore twist scientists’ words, making them more controversial and less truthful.  “Associate with” doesn’t sell ads.  “Increases the likelihood” can.

The significant findings in the study itself were cognitive benefits associated with video gaming.  Children who played for up to two hours had increased reaction time and neuroimaging showed that they had higher levels of neural connectivity: in non-scientific terms, their brains grew.  That ‘brain growth’ wasn’t increased for children who gamed for more than two hours per week, but harmful associations were only present in the children who gamed for 9 or more hours per week. Yet, the headline “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS” implies something very different.  Just like the “This common household item may KILL YOUR CHILDREN…more at 11” school of local evening news, it takes advantage of parents’ fears for their children to ensnare eyeballs and increase ad revenue.  It’s not exactly what I’d call ‘ethical.’

There is another reason Fernandez’s article made me and the other RWoG admins so angry, but without access to the full article it’s hard to tell whether the fault is in the original study or simply the Daily Mail’s interpretation of it.  The problem is this: the authors of both articles seem to be drawing generalizations about the risks and benefits of all video games based on the few games that the children in the study happen to already play.

While there was no information in the abstract regarding what games they were playing, Fernandez writes, “The most popular games in the study included Super Mario Brothers, FIFA and Wii Sports.”  They are all games that rely heavily on motor skills, so it’s no wonder that the subjects showed improvement in that area.  But there are games that exercise other parts of the brain.  I’d like to see children who play sports games compared to children who play creative, sandbox games like Minecraft, or puzzle games like Portal.  Many online and multiplayer games are highly social.  The comments associating video games with ‘reduced prosocial abilities’ particularly grate me because I do the majority of my socialization through Guild Wars 2.  The cooperation, teamwork, and, yes, social aptitude that players build raiding in MMOs translate not only to the workplace but to life in general.

The video game is a blossoming medium for storytelling and creativity.  The best games, from the elegant to the complex, contribute as much to our culture as any book or film.  I’m continually astounded by the range of games available for our consumption, and by amazing new titles released every year.  And yet, much of our culture sees games as a monolith, and a dangerous one at that, rather than something to be celebrated.  Fernandez’s article simply perpetuates that kind of thinking.  It’s time we started thinking for ourselves.



  1. Golden, Catherine J.  2003.  Images of the Woman Reader in Victoran British and American Fiction.  University Press of Florida.  Gainsville, FL.
  2. Fernandez, Colin.  9 September 2016.  “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS a week or it will damage their social skills.”  Url:
  3. Pujol, Jesus et al.  22 August 2016.  “Video gaming in school children: How much is enough?”  Annals of Neurology.  Abstract can be found at: