Each month in “The Six-Point Inspection,” Future Tense and Zócalo Public Square take a quick look at new science and technology books that are changing the way we see our world.
The nutshell: Using the lenses of psychology, philosophy, game design, and fiction, New York University gaming scholar Juul explores the strange paradox of video games: we hate losing, but we only like games in which we lose most of the time.
Literary lovechild of: Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.
You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’re a loser. But in the nice sense of the term.
Cocktail party fodder: Video games have gotten easier. In the early days, developers designed using the arcade model, which gave players a limited number of lives in games like Super Mario Bros. In the 1990s, they started giving players infinite lives in single-player games like Uncharted 2.
For optimal benefit: Play Juul’s Suicide Game and get an extra-twisted taste of the book’s central paradox—that we enjoy failure. In this case, the goal of the game is for the protagonist to die.
Snap judgment: Juul’s essay is lean, pleasingly bold, and follows through on an intriguing premise.
Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul, drawings by Wendy MacNaughton
The nutshell: Shortly after writer Paul began dating artist MacNaughton, Paul’s beloved cat Tibby disappeared. When Tibby reappeared five weeks later and a half-pound heavier, Paul reacted with joy—and bought a GPS system and a CatCam so that going forward, she could see where Tibby was sleeping (and eating) around.
Literary lovechild of: Sandra Cisneros’ Have You Seen Marie? and Vicki Myron’s Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.
You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You can make room for it amid all your cat figurines.
Cocktail party fodder: Somewhere, there’s a guy working out of a garage making GPS systems especially designed for cats, says Paul, who ordered one for Tibby off a website she describes as “strange … full of crude drawings and stiff English.”
For optimal benefit: Read before investing in history’s most expensive and technologically advanced scratching post.
Snap judgment: Cute without being treacly, Lost Cat has an appeal that even dog partisans will have to acknowledge.
The nutshell: Science writer Ingram unravels the scientific mystery of prions, protein molecules that, when misshapen in the brain, are behind fatal ailments like mad-cow disease.
You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: When you think protein, you don’t think about red meat, leafy vegetables, and legumes—you think amino acids like valine and methionine.
Cocktail party fodder: You can’t donate blood in the United States or Canada if you spent a significant amount of time in Western Europe between 1980 and 1996, because you might be incubating mad-cow-like prions. Might be. Calm down.
For optimal benefit: Put down the cheeseburger before picking up this book.
Snap judgment: Ingram’s tales of discovery, though told with suspense and careful clarity, would carry more weight if the author pulled back to explain their broader significance.
Previous Six-Point Inspections:
March 2013: Robot Futures, Math on Trial, and Can’t Buy Me Like.
February 2013: Pukka’s Promise, Entering the Shift Age, and Data: A Love Story.
January 2013: Contagion, Mankind Beyond Earth, and Raw Data Is an Oxymoron.
December 2012: Saving Babies, Near-Earth Objects, and Learning To Change the World.
November 2012: Netflixed, Discord, and Million Death Quake.
October 2012: The Launch Paid, Regenesis, and The Digital Rights Movement.
September: 2012 Unfit for the Future, Automate This, and This Machine Kills Secrets.
August 2012: Resilience, Interop, and Green Illusions.
*Correction, April 3, 2013: This link originally went to another book called Fatal Flaws. The link has been updated.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Ebola Story
How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.