monster's BLOG

June 19th, 2008 . by Catherine Frederico, MS RD LDN

Wikipedia…not just any old funny word.

Most people have heard about by now. Search just about anything on Google and Wikipedia pops up to the top. What you may not know is that Wikipedia = wiki + encyclopedia. But what’s a wiki?

Wiki, wiki, what?

Of course, Wikipedia has a lot to say about wikis. But, just as a summary, a wiki is an online resource that allows users to add and edit content collectively. Wiki comes from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick” or “fast.” A wiki is basically a set of website pages that can be quickly edited by multiple people. They can be public, such as Wikipedia, and edited by anyone. You don’t even need to know HTML, it can be edited right through the browser.

Wikis can also be private and only edited by people that have been granted access. Here at the Playnormous studio, we use an open source program called Trac to keep, well, track of what we’re working on for the Playnormous website. Having a Playnormous wiki helps keep the entire team on the same page. One person can make a change on the wiki and everyone can see it. No need to send out twelve emails just because the title for one of our health games changed.

I’m all about anything that avoids overwhelming my inbox. Hurray for the Playnormous Wiki!

June 18th, 2008 . by Catherine Frederico, MS RD LDN

Virtually virtual.

The next bit of lingo I’d like to discuss is the concept of Virtual Worlds. This may seem like a gimme, but if you want to get technical, a virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment in which users can share information with one another.

For an online environment to be considered a virtual world, it traditionally must contain:

  • Universal space that can be explored (usually 3-D)
  • Avatars (a virtual representation of yourself)
  • Living space that is customizable (build a house, build a world, build a whatever)
  • Communication method (through your avatar)

Definitions are great and all, but what about an example?

There are tons of virtual worlds out there. I’m going to just list a few. If you want more examples see the Association of Virtual Worlds Blue Book with more than 250 virtual worlds listed.

Is Playnormous a virtual world?

The short answer is “No.” Playnormous is not a virtual world; Playnormous is a virtual community. Why? Let’s go through the requirements for being a virtual world:

  • Universal space that can be explored (usually 3-D)
    • No–Playnormous has a homepage and pages all users can access but does not have a central location where avatars can congregate.
  • Avatars (a virtual representation of yourself)
    • Yes–by the end of August, 2008, Playnormous users will be able to create a Monster Mini avatar which can be customized.
  • Living space that’s customizable (build a house, build a world, build a whatever)
    • Yes–by the end of October, 2008, Playnormous users will receive a plot of land for their monster avatar. They can earn tokens from gameplay and spend them on decorations and houses for their land.
  • Communication method (through your avatar)
    • No–by mid-November, 2008, Playnormous users will be able to link their monster avatar’s land with friends. HOWEVER, Playnormous users will only be able to link with people they already know (must know their email address). Users will not be able to communicate directly with one another using a chat mechanism.

      Monster Worlds

June 17th, 2008 . by Catherine Frederico, MS RD LDN

What’s a(n) <insert techie lingo here>?

When I started working at Playnormous, I had to learn a whole new vocabulary, much like when I started in microbiology and public health. Every field has it’s own lingo and terms. Avatars, virtual worlds, web 2.0. I’d heard many of these words before, but I really couldn’t define any of them if someone were to ask me.

I have a feeling that parents have the same issue. Kids today have always had the Internet; they’ve always had online games. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. Thus was born my idea to do a little parent techie vocabulary series…and tell you more about Playnormous in the process.

What’s an avatar?

According to Wikipedia (we’ll talk about what a wiki is at a later date), the word Avatar comes from Hindu mythology and means “the incarnation of a divine being.” It is derived from the Sanskrit word daveed which means to “descent” or “passing down.” Really? I didn’t know that. In the virual world, an avatar is an iconic representation of a player. It is a graphical image or digital version of a user in a virtual setting.

So basically an Avatar in mythology terms is an earthly manifestation of a god in human or animal form. An avatar in techie terms is a virtual manifestation of a player in graphic form.

Definitions are great and all, but what about an example?


This is the most obvious example of an avatar. A picture of yourself. This is typically not seen on sites for very small children but is commonplace on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

Avatar LinkedIn


When I think of an avatar, I think of a caricatures…a digital “person” that kind of looks like me. Caricatures can be set images a website owner gives people to use during gameplay or chatting. Select the one that looks most like you. Our friends at OpMom allow you to select from one of several 3-D caricatures. Caricatures can also be customizable images that can be altered to look exactly like the user (or what the user would like to look like). Second Life is a classic example where a user can design their own caricature avatar.

Avatar OpMom

Avatar Second Life

Animals and Pets

The use of animals or make-believe pets is very popular for sites that target children. A perfect example is Club Penguin where players pick a colored penguin avatar of their choice.

Avatar Club Penguin


Billboards are a type of avatar that advertise a particular company or brand. They can be something as simple as a name or logo, a specific product, or even a character that represents a brand. For example, I am represented as a purple Playnormous turkey monster for Monster’s Blog, and I use the Playnormous logo for Twitter.

Avatar Twitter

June 16th, 2008 . by Catherine Frederico, MS RD LDN

The mind’s a terrible thing to waste.

Myth Busters Health

Today’s health myth: you only use 10% of your brain. I’ve heard this one several times. Does this myth hold up?

The truth.

According to Newsweek, this one may date back to the days of the snake-oil salesmen who used the myth to sell a tonic that would increase brainpower. That’s early 1900s. Wow! What a myth!

According to a British Medical Journal study by Carroll and Vreeman, “Numerous types of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is completely silent or inactive. Detailed probing of the brain has failed to identify the ‘nonfunctioning’ 90 percent.”

Brain myth…busted!

June 13th, 2008 . by Catherine Frederico, MS RD LDN

It’s hip to be square.Monster Richard

Last week at lunch, a bunch of us were talking about Playnormous over some Mexican food. For whatever reason, the subject of Richard’s monster came up. Jerald mentioned that it was kind of like a square with eyes. Then Mckee busted out the Huey Lewis and the News reference. I love 80s music so “It’s Hip To Be Square” was in my head the rest of the day.

Front and center.

Richard is the Vice President of Playnormous and helps keep our feet in the health and medical community. He’s kind of like the glue that holds the health side of our company together. I usually don’t have the opportunity to blog about Richard much because he is always out and about, speaking and traveling and the like.

Richard is a very good public speaker and does a lot educating the “left brain folks” about video games and how they can be used to improve the health and lives of others. He does a lot of educating the public about what Games for Health are and how difficult it is to make a good one because it requires mushing together the world of design (the “right brain folks”) with the world of research/medicine (the “left brain folks”). Want to hear more? See Richard’s publication in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Got Mac?

Richard is a HUGE Apple fan. Saying he’s a HUGE Apple fan is actually an understatement. He was Steve Jobs for Halloween this past year…really! With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Richard is a master at creating Keynote presentations. He’s very good at pitching new ideas to people and explaining things in compelling and almost cinematic way. In the last year or so, he’s given his amazing Keynote presentations at places from the Games for Health Conference to Harvard University to The Life Sciences Venture Forum. This works out very well for Playnormous, and we can’t wait to see what all of Richard’s presentations will bring our way.

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