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Geek & Sundry via YouTube
Geek & Sundry via YouTube

How Wil Wheaton Boosts Board Game Sales

Geek & Sundry via YouTube
Geek & Sundry via YouTube

Wil Wheaton was a child actor, arguably best known for his roles in Stand By Me (1986) and Star Trek: The Next Generation. You probably know that he’s now become something of a geek overlord, not to mention the archenemy of Sheldon Cooper on TV series The Big Bang Theory. But unless you’re a member of the gaming community, you may not know that Wheaton is pretty huge in the tabletop gaming industry, thanks in part to his web series on Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry YouTube channel.

In TableTop, which is gearing up for its fourth season, Wheaton invites various guests to sit down and play games with him. But we’re not talking Monopoly or Scrabble. TableTop dives into everything from popular party games such as Cards Against Humanity and Wits & Wagers, to role-playing games like Fiasco and Dragon Age. Guests have included game designers, actors, writers, Internet celebrities, and Wheaton’s family.

Here’s an episode where Wheaton plays Carcassonne with comedian Kumail Nanjiani, writer Nika Harper, and YouTube gaming personality Jesse Cox.

These seemingly simple videos of friends enjoying a fun diversion have caused a tabletop game boom. After each episode airs, the games played on the show benefit from major sales boosts. According to Wheaton, the effect started almost immediately, just three episodes into season one. He told Fortune:

“We started getting emails and phone calls from game shop owners and publishers because they were not prepared for the explosion of sales that they had. They wanted to know if we could let them know a little bit in advance when an episode was going to air, so that they could stock up. . . . We have looked at sales figures from the big game distributors, and it’s pretty cool. People see our show and then you just watch the spike in the sales. And for a lot of games the only reason that spike trails off is because the game sells out and they have to take time to make another printing.”

Dave Chalker, creator of the game Get Bit!, agreed that his Kickstarter-funded game benefited after appearing on the first season. “While Get Bit! definitely had its fans prior to TableTop, there’s definitely been a big boost,” he wrote on Critical Hits. “I’m sure it’s been a factor in translating it into 4 different languages for international editions (which led to a game of the year nomination for the French edition), as well as winning the Origins Award for Best Children’s, Family, or Party game.”

One game store tracked their sales of several games before and after they appeared on TableTop. The only one that didn’t see a huge spike was Settlers of Catan, which the owner attributes to the fact that Catan was already a pretty mainstream game.

Need more proof of the Wheaton Effect? Here’s an analysis of sales and BoardGameGeek ranks of the games King of Tokyo, The Resistance, and Alhambra. There are even more here.

Though the monetary sales of games are obviously a good thing for both publishers and independent game makers, Wheaton says he's just happy that more people are coming together to play games: “There is a wonderful, timeless, communal experience that is a fundamental part of who we are as social animals, of getting together in the same place to do something together.”

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UsTwo
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This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids
UsTwo
UsTwo

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Cell Free Technology
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This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

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