Going ape for games

Any high-tech sector that gets really, really big inevitably works its way into dozens of nifty niches.

Take computer games, which at one Canadian university are now teaching kids about a highly un-technological subject: William Shakespeare.

The University of Guelph apparently spent $50,000 to develop the game, dubbed “Speare,” which was unveiled recently to coincide with the anniversary of The Bard’s death. Rather than involving Elizabethan duels and rampant poisoning, the game unfolds in outer space, pitting players against a shadowy race of aliens who have stolen the text of Romeo and Juliet. The goal is to recover the text by memorizing lines from the famous play, learning facts about Shakespeare’s life and devising synonyms and homonyms for parts of the text. And by blowing stuff up.

The game is currently available online at www.canadianshakespeares.ca/speare.cfm.

All this brings us to a little-known fact about Shakespeare: He was working on an early version of an Excel spreadsheet and created a formula that inspired one of his most famous lines: =OR (B2, NOT (B2))

Don’t monkey with this business

How’s this for an all-encompassing segue: The infinite monkey theorem states that an ape hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type out the complete works of Shakespeare. It’s not clear whether they’re practising for this endeavour, but a pair of Sumatran orangutans at Zoo Atlanta are playing computer games while researchers study their cognitive skills.

According to news reports, the orangutans use a touch screen built into a tree-like structure that blend in with their zoo habitat. In one game, orangutans choose identical photographs or match orangutan sounds with photos of the animals. Correct answers are rewarded with food pellets. Another game lets them draw pictures by moving their hands and other body parts around the screen. Printouts are on display in the zoo.

The games, which volunteers from IBM spent nearly 500 hours developing, test the animals’ memory, reasoning and learning, spitting out sheets of data for researchers at the zoo and Atlanta’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Zoo officials hope the exhibit will raise awareness of the rapidly diminishing wild orangutan population, which is on track to completely disappear in the next decade, and potentially provide keys to their survival. The data will help researchers learn about socializing patterns, such as whether they mimic others or learn behaviour from scratch through trial and error.

There was no word on the popularity of “Donkey Kong” among the orangutans.

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