A review of five family friendly video games for the holidays

By Curtis Withers

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Video games are sure to be at the top of the wish lists of many Canadian children once again this holiday season, but parents may be concerned that some of the most sought-after titles are too much of a time sink, too violent or both.

Here are five suggestions from The Canadian Press on games that children and young teens can enjoy, and for parents looking for an alternative to the “Fortnite” craze.

NINTENDO LABO

Platform: Nintendo Switch

ESRB rating: E (all ages)

Price range: $80 (robot kit) to $90 (vehicle kit, variety pack)

A solid entry-level gaming choice for younger children, Nintendo’s Labo kits are essentially cardboard toy construction sets and video games rolled into one. The Labo debuted in April with the variety pack, and robot kit, and a vehicle kit that came out in September added steering consoles for car, submarine and airplane games. The car steering wheel and pedal can also be used as a controller for the popular racing game “Mario Kart 8,” and it works pretty well.

While building the kits is certainly enjoyable, the real gem of the Labo system is the basic object oriented coding language that kids can access to learn the fundamentals of programming while adding more functionality to the toys. It’s packaged as an under-the-hood extra in the kits released so far, but has excellent potential as a learning tool if Nintendo features it more prominently in a future release.

SUPER MARIO PARTY

Platform: Nintendo Switch

ESRB rating: E

Price range: $80

Nintendo’s bread-and-butter has long been family-friendly games, and this year was no different. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and the “Pokemon: Let’s Go” games could also have made this list. But for sheer family entertainment that appeals to gamers of all ages, “Super Mario Party” has the edge.

The casual mini-games that make up the heart of the game are fun, particularly with a full complement of four players. And playing the board game modes is a must for any family whose holiday get-together includes a heated round of “Monopoly.”

OVERCOOKED! 2

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows/Mac

ESRB rating: E

Price range: $25 (digital) – $50

Another chaotic family-friendly multiplayer game, “Overcooked! 2” is a game that stresses co-operation and teamwork as a group of chefs are tasked with cooking and serving an increasingly complicated array of dishes within a time limit. As the dishes get more complex, so too do the kitchen layouts the chefs must work in. Without some planning and co-ordination, you could be spending time putting out fires and searching in vain for clean dishes as the timer mercilessly ticks down.

The attractive price point and availability on a wide variety of platforms makes “Overcooked! 2” one of the more accessible holiday gaming recommendations.

FORZA HORIZON 4

Platforms: Xbox One, Windows

ESRB rating: E

Price range: $80

The latest entry in the “Forza Horizon” series takes place in an open-world rendition of Britain, where players vie for supremacy in high-speed races to earn enough money to add more vehicles to their ever-expanding garages.

It’s a game more suited to older kids, as the driving mechanics can get a little complicated, and of course the thought of recklessly driving through the streets of Edinburgh might be a turnoff for parents with smaller children. But with the amount of vehicles available and the variety of racetracks on offer, “Forza Horizon 4” will offer plenty to keep young, aspiring gearheads busy.

SPIDER-MAN

Platform: PlayStation 4

ESRB rating: Teen

Price range: $65 (used) to $80 (new)

Spidey’s latest foray into video games highlighted a big year for the wall-crawler: Peter Parker had a big role in the blockbuster  “Avengers: Infinity War” (we all know he’s coming back from “the snap,” right?) and multiple versions of the hero will appear in the anticipated animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.”

The latest “Spider-Man” game exists outside his film counterparts, with an excellent original story serving as the backbone of the title. It may not be suitable for younger children due to a few intense scenes and some mild language, but any kids who can handle the Marvel films won’t have any problems with the content here.

While there is some cartoonish violence in the game, Spider-Man’s moral compass stays true. His fisticuffs with the forces of evil are never lethal, and when he’s not facing off against The Kingpin or The Rhino he even has time to clean up some of New York City’s pollution.

IBC Issues Position Paper on Automated Vehicles

Source: IBC

During its annual Regulatory Affairs Symposium this month (November 2018), Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) released a position paper, Auto Insurance for Automated Vehicles: Preparing for the Future of Mobility.

The recommendations in the paper were developed over the past two years by auto insurance experts, who in turn, received input from a panel of legal advisors. IBC would like to thank the insurer representatives who worked on developing the recommendations in this paper, as well as the panel of legal experts who advised them.

The paper contains three recommendations that update both provincial insurance laws and federal vehicle safety standards:

  1. Establish a single insurance policy that covers driver negligence and automated technology malfunctions to facilitate liability claims;
  2. Establish a legislated data-sharing arrangement between vehicle manufacturers and vehicle owners and/or insurers to help determine the cause of a collision; and
  3. Update the federal vehicle safety standards to address new technology and cyber security standards.

“Automated vehicles are coming to Canada’s roads, and the laws that govern insurance and vehicle safety need to be updated to reflect this reality,” said Don Forgeron, President and CEO, IBC. “We need changes to the provincial insurance laws across the country to ensure that collision victims continue to be compensated in a timely manner.”

Each province has a prescribed auto insurance policy and supporting laws that are not yet designed for automated vehicles. Currently, they are built on the notion that human error is the primary cause of collisions. As humans cede control of driving to automated technology, the collisions that do occur will be caused increasingly by product malfunction. The current laws will create uncertainty and confusion for some people injured in collisions that involve automated vehicles, possibly delaying treatment for their injuries and claims payouts.

Several major auto manufacturers expect to have automated vehicles available for purchase in the early 2020s. IBC is asking governments across the country to update relevant laws, to ensure we are ready when automated vehicles hit the roads.

Facebook beyond Facebook? Instagram, Messenger step up

By Barbara Ortutay

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK _ When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, it seemed like a big gamble for an unproven little app. Six years later, that little app _ along with Messenger and WhatsApp are serving as Facebook’s safety net for a future that could find its flagship service on the sidelines.

Sure, Facebook reigns in social media today, and this is not likely to change soon. Still, amid the company’s seemingly endless troubles over elections meddling, misinformation, privacy lapses, hacking and hate speech, the idea that Facebook may not always be on top has begun to take hold.

“Facebook could collapse,” said David Kirkpatrick, who wrote a 2010 book on Facebook’s early history.

In an interview, he said the elections manipulations issue “could get so terrifying that advertisers could start to back away. That’s nowhere near happening now, but it could happen.”

That is, as Facebook stops being a virtual watercooler for friendly conversation, but a lair for trolls and misinformation _ advertisers might find the service too dangerous to showcase laundry detergent and shoes.

For now, Facebook is a social and advertising powerhouse. It has 2.23 billion users, a number that’s still growing at a healthy pace outside of the U.S. Wall Street analysts project Facebook’s 2018 revenue will top $55 billion. While the company doesn’t break out revenue among its apps, eMarketer estimates that Instagram will bring in 16 per cent of Facebook’s advertising revenue this year and 25 per cent by 2020. (The research firm does not have estimates for Messenger ads, which are still new and nascent, and WhatsApp, which doesn’t have ads yet.)

“It really speaks to the fact that advertisers love Instagram,” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “It has the appeal of being a generally positive environment.”

In fact, Instagram is becoming the top social media service for many brands to interact with consumers, said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of the social media marketing firm Socialbakers. So even though these companies are reaching a smaller audience than Facebook, these people are “engaging,” or interacting, a lot more with the advertisers, he said.

Facebook is working hard to ensure that Messenger and later, WhatsApp, become viable businesses as well. On Tuesday, Facebook announced plans to make its Messenger app simpler and easier to use. But the redesign also makes it clear that messages from businesses _ and ads _ are becoming increasingly important. Such messages are now front and centre alongside messages with friends and other individuals.

The new Messenger features a “dark mode” that lets people switch to white text on a black background. It has fewer “tabs” or words and icons to tap to get to different sections in the app. The previous version had nine, including “messages,” ”active” to show ongoing conversations, ”groups,“ ”games“ and a ”discover“ icon to find bots to chat with for everything from the weather to horoscopes to shopping. The new version has just three: ”chats,“ ”people“ and ”discover“ to connect with businesses, follow the news or play games.

Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for messaging at Facebook, said the primary intent wasn’t to elevate messaging with businesses. But he said that “when people spend more and more time communicating with each other on a platform, inevitably that is where businesses need to be. It’s almost like print happened and then businesses needed to be on print.”

Facebook, of course, is working hard to nudge people and businesses in this direction, convincing them that chatting on Messenger is more efficient than, say, emailing, calling or tweeting at  an airline, a clothing store or even your bank.

One thing Facebook has always understood is the importance of human connections and interaction. Chudnovsky considers one-on-one communications a “basic human need.” Considering that people use Messenger, and not the main Facebook service, for such interactions, does this mean Messenger is more important than Facebook?

“We don’t take a position on what is more important,” Chudnovsky said.

Still, considering that people no longer need a Facebook account to use Messenger, maybe some day it will be. After all, people (especially younger ones) are using Facebook less frequently, even as they flock to Instagram and its messaging services. A Pew Research Center study recently found that just over half of teens use Facebook, while 72 per cent use Instagram.

“The idea has always been not to replace Facebook, but to add to it,” said Nate Elliott, head of the market research firm Nineteen Insights. “But now that Facebook’s reputation has taken a beating, I’m sure that they see it as a very nice insurance policy.”

Tesla in Autopilot mode crashes into California police car

Authorities say a Tesla sedan in Autopilot mode has crashed into a parked police cruiser in Southern California.

Police Sgt. Jim Cota says the officer was not in the cruiser during the crash Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Laguna Beach. He says the Tesla driver suffered minor injuries.

The police SUV ended up with its two passenger-side wheels on a sidewalk.

Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode has come under scrutiny following other recent crashes. The carmaker says the function is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely.

Uber says it remains committed to Toronto hub for self driving car research

Uber Technologies Inc. says the Arizona research centre that conducted a fatal test of a self-diving car is being shut down but the company is “doubling down” on its efforts at engineering hubs in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Uber says it is “very committed” to the self-driving vehicle project and its Toronto engineering hub has several positions currently open, with others likely to be added.

It also aims to resume operations in Pittsburg this summer and it’s in conversations with state officials in California and the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento but it provided less detail about its Toronto operation.

Uber previously suspended all of its autonomous vehicle operations following a fatal March accident, where one of its cars hit a 49-year-old woman who was crossing the street in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.

At the time, Uber said it had been testing two self-driving vehicles in Toronto for months, but the automobiles had not been picking up passengers.

Toronto is only one of several Ontario cities that are hosting limited tests of increasingly autonomous vehicles being conducted by several companies in what’s being promoted as the next major step in automotive technology.

Texters who distract drivers could be held liable in accidents: insurance expert

By Peter Rakobowchuk

THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL _ An insurance and legal expert says texters could be held liable for any damages if they message someone they know is driving and that person has an accident.

“There’s an increasing public safety issue of operators of vehicles who are distracted while driving,” lawyer Jordan Solway said in a recent interview.

“And if you contribute in the same way as if you’re in the vehicle, and you interfere with their driving of the vehicle, you could be held responsible for that injured third party.”

Solway, vice-president of claim at Travelers Canada, pointed to a New Jersey court ruling from 2013 that said the sender of a text who causes a driver to become distracted and have an accident may be held liable.

The case involved an 18-year-old driver’s girlfriend who texted him about 25 seconds before his pickup truck crossed a median and seriously injured a motorcyclist and his wife. Both bikers lost their left legs as a result of the 2009 accident.

Solway said there have been no similar cases in Canada yet, but he believes it’s just a matter of time.

He compares it to what happens when a bar owner or the host of a party has to take responsibility for someone who is drinking, becomes intoxicated and gets into a vehicle.

“It’s analogous you’re putting someone in a position where they could cause harm to themselves or a third party,” Solway said.

Travelers Canada also commissioned a recent online survey that delved into what may be distracting drivers.

The No. 1 reason may not be surprising.

Thirty-one per cent said it was because they have family obligations that require constant attention. By gender, 40 per cent of females gave that reason, while it was 23 per cent among males.

In Quebec, 23 per cent cited family obligations, while in Ontario the figure was 41 per cent.

When it came to other reasons, 27 per cent said they didn’t want to miss something important, another 14 per cent said they always wanted to be available for work and eight per cent said they were afraid of upsetting the boss if they didn“t answer.

“I think it’s a (consequence) unfortunately of living in a highly connected world where, if someone doesn’t respond immediately to an email or a text, your concern is they are ignoring you,” Solway noted.

The Harris Poll was conducted March 9-12 and involved 948 Canadian drivers aged 18 and over.

An Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman says companies must implement policies to discourage drivers from texting _ and individuals who may be texting them _ while they are on the road.

“The aspect of determining liability or fault in cases lke that would rest with the courts,” Pete Karageorgos said in an interview.

“It has to be a whole host of instances in terms of not just the act of texting, but also the act of reading the text or responding or having that phone in your hand.”

He said some insurers are seeing more instances of rear-end-type collisions which typically happen when the driver in the back isn’t paying attention.

“It’s a concern that we share as an industry because that will impact premiums,” Karageorgos added.

But Quebec’s automobile insurance board provided some encouraging statistics involving drivers who violated the law, which prohibits the use of a hand-held device while driving.

The highest number was in 2013 when there were close to 68,000 infractions, including 19,000 that involved drivers between the ages of 25 and 34.

But in 2016, the overall total dropped to 46,369. For the 25-34 age group, it decreased to just more than 14,000

The lowest number was in 2008 when there were about 18,250 violations.

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