Can’t decide what to eat?

They've got you jumping around on their Wii Fit and you can keep your faculties in trim with Brain T

Now regularly invading the Sunday supplements and lifestyle technology sections of the dailies, the middle-brow appears satisfied that gaming is ‘mainstream’, something ‘older’ people and on occasion ‘females’ are now enjoying as a pastime of choice.

Upon closer examination though, it rapidly becomes apparent that such editorial is usually talking about the work of a one company in particular - Nintendo, and the rest of the industry is benefitting from their innovation hugely.

Since the launch of their handheld DS and latterly Wii systems, this old Japanese company has become an accepted synonym for mainstream gaming. Their most recent success, Wii Fit, sent non-gamers rushing to the shops to buy a brilliant (and expensive) ‘balance board’ with software which could apparently measure and improve their fitness.

Despite also emitting the same whiff of pseudo-science which some found objectionable about their Brain Training games, the masses were mostly able to make the leap that their ‘Wii Fit Age’ score was simply a motivational device which encouraged them to play, and not a clinically accurate diagnosis of their cardio-vascular health.

There was of course, the unfortunate subjective analysis (you’re fat) that the software doled out to one ten year old girl, but most people emerged relatively unscathed.

So, having convinced aging gamers that they can delay the onset of Alzeimers with Brain Training, and selling an elaborate set of bathroom scales into living rooms with lucrative success with Wii Fit - they now make a move into a previously untapped room of your house - the kitchen. Their latest DS release, Cooking Guide, prizes open the gap between them and their ‘competitors’ even farther. Subtitled ‘Can’t decide what to eat?’, this is a snappy, convenient little tool designed to help you answer that recurring question and then guide you through the culinary process.

It’s a perfectly effective recipe software and most useful in the manner in which it allows you to interrogate its database, selecting recipe options based on your available ingredients, spare time or country of origin.

Having chosen your meal, the software takes you step by step through preparation and cooking in a surprisingly un-patronising manner. Fears of your DS’s circuitry becoming jammed up with raw pork are unfounded, as there’s really no need to touch the device once you start cooking.

The entire process can be driven through effective voice-recognition, requiring you to clearly shout ‘continue’ to move on to the next step. A chef avatar thankfully devoid of any particular character traits guides you through the cooking, and suggests a real opportunity for celebrity chefs in the future.

Surely Ramsay will see this as an opportunity to stretch his franchise even further and license, ‘Can’t decide what to fucking eat?’

The whole exercise is more a very effective proof of concept than an essential purchase, and it’s unlikely that the software will make the same headlines that Brain Training did. That said, as another demonstration of the durability of the DS as a device, it’s very persuasive.

Quite how effective Brain Training and Cooking Guide are as a gateway drug into other gaming experiences isn’t wholly clear as yet. The DS remains one of the richest platforms for innovation in game design around, and it would be great to think that having had their brains trained, players move on to try other experiences. Cooking Guide is also suggestive of a yet un-tapped market for decision making software. Politics Guide : Can’t decide what to think? Anyone?

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics