Who invented Chess?

It was not Dr Albert Chess, we regret to inform you. We’ll probably never know the precise origin of this ancient game of strategy and funny horses. But we can try to find out! And that starts with asking a board game historian for some background on the noble game. Where did it come from? Was it always so stuffy? Did chess ever face competition from other ancient board games? We ask Ulrich Sch├Ądler of the Swiss Museum of Games to bring us up to speed on a multiplayer battle arena that hasn’t been patched since the 15th century.

With guest co-host Matt Cox!

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How do mediums speak to the dead? (The Medium)

Spoiler: they don’t. Unless they are the tortured protagonist of The Medium, a new horror game from the makers of Layers of Fear. She talks to the dead all the time, shifting between our world and a decaying spirit realm as she is pursued by a malevolent presence with a gurgling voice. Do “real” mediums have such problems with spirits? And how do television mediums and psychic performers correctly intuit so much about their audience members? We spoke to expert fact-checker Susan Gerbic to discover the psychological tricks mediums use to fool their audience, and how she goes about performing a “sting” on a phony psychic.

With guest co-host Edwin Evans-Thirlwell.

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Are Japan’s Yakuza disappearing? (Yakuza: Like A Dragon)

With guest co-host Kazuma Hashimoto!

Get your best suit on. We’re off to the classiest, seediest, and most fictional entertainment districts of Japan. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is the latest criminal RPG in the much-beloved Yakuza series. Yet what truth lies behind the flashy jackets and shocked expressions of its characters? Yes, Yakuza games are all melodrama and action, but can we learn anything about the real Yakuza of Japan through these lovable rogues? In this episode we speak to investigative journalist David Kaplan, who spent time in Japan investigating the criminal underworld. He fills us in on the history and current-day reality of these entrepreneurial crime lords, and blesses us with an anecdote involving some unfortunate little fingers…

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5 great games from 2020

“Never look back,” my mother always said. “Unless you are compiling your Games Of The Year list.” So here you go: a short video naming the 5 games I most enjoyed in 2020 (and some runners-up too). It’s a real pick ‘n’ mix of a shortlist, with some big blockbusters alongside games made by small teams. There’s no particular order to it. I liked them all, despite what flaws they have (ahem, looking at a certain bizarro walking simulator here).

This is a small bonus video to round out the year. Podcast-wise, I have some good episodes lined up for 2021, and I hope I have as many video games to praise at the end of it. Thank you to all the lessoners and Patrons who have stuck with me so far! Please feel free to shout out your favourite games from this year in the video’s comments. GOTY lists are pretty silly. But they are fun to make. Make one!

The Trial of the Tomb Raider

Featuring guest co-hosts Alex Fitzpatrick, Imogen Mellor and Florence Smith Nicholls!

Her reign of archaeological terror ends here. Lara Croft, known to some as the “Tomb Raider”, has been stealing ancient artefacts and impatiently kicking skulls out of her way for too long. Today, in a special holiday episode of Hey Lesson, we are putting the infamous plunderer on trial for her crimes. Those crimes are mainly being a poor archaeologist and a questionable archer to boot. She will be judged by a (very small) jury of her peers. Two archaeologists, one archer, and a mostly clueless host who is mainly there to ask leading questions. Lara will be tried in absentia, because she is a fictional character and cannot take the stand in her own defence. Yes, this is a show trial. We follow our own customs of law and order here on Hey Lesson. Happy holidays.

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Can you escape from Hades?

With guest co-host Chris Bratt!

Crawl out of that blood pool, you’re in Hades. Don’t worry, not real Hades, only the much-lauded action game interpretation of said underworld by Supergiant Games. It’s a roguelike full of notoriously beautiful Gods and super hot heroes. But were Greek deities really considered so sexy by the ancient Athenians? Who even was Zagreus, son of Hades and lead character of this game? And if we found ourselves trapped in this realm of ghosts, could we ever truly escape? We put all these questions (and more) to archeologist Gunnel Ekroth, a specialist in ancient Greek religious practices who has legitimately burned goat bones to better understand these distant people. That’s dedication.

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How does a language die? (Heaven’s Vault)

With guest co-host Pip Warr!

Hello, bonjour, hola, dia duit, eguerdi on… Language is important. You’re using it right now. In adventure game Heaven’s Vault you’re a cosmic archeologist trying to decipher the meaning of long-forgotten hieroglyphs scattered throughout a colourful nebula. But the languages of our own world are not immortal. We speak to linguist May Helena Plumb about one such family of endangered languages called Zapotec, spoken mostly in Oaxaca, Mexico. She tells us why it’s important to make sure these endangered tongues stay spoken, written, and respected.

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Your brain on ‘likes’ in Death Stranding

Smash that like button. Wait, don’t! As we’ve previously discovered, ‘likes’ on social media can make your brain do all sorts of weirdness. But if you haven’t listened to that episode and can’t face the 40 minutes it would take to find out what effect all these little thumbs-ups are having on your noggin, don’t worry. Here’s a video that breaks down the essential points on the topic, using Death Stranding as an example.

This is the first of some videos I’m calling “Little Lessons”. They are short videos that break down a topic from one of our recent podcast episodes. It’s mostly an excuse to make rubbish jokes and force everyone who knows me to cringe at my “YouTuber voice”. But it’s also a way to bring the fun and facts of the show to those who might not have the time for full podcasts. (Also, I am just trying to learn how to make videos, shhhh).

Is this something I should be doing more? Or do you want YouTube as an industry to get in the bin? Let me know what you think!

Who were the Viking shieldmaidens? (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla)

With guest co-host Alice Bell!

Take another horn of mead, friend. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is out and trying to rehabilitate the rowdy reputation of the Vikings. It pits you against the dastardly Saxons as the axe-wielding Eivor, a raider whose gender is up to you. To find out more about the Vikings and the reason why we’re seeing more women on the Viking battlefields in our popular media, we’ve spoken to Dr Cat Jarman, a bioarcheologist who explains how historians can learn about the people of our past. Clue: it’s all in dem bones.

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Can hackers defeat fascism? (Watch Dogs: Legion)

With guest co-host Nate Crowley!

Put your goofiest masks on, lessoners, we’re jacking in. Watch Dogs: Legion wants you to recruit random passers-by to your hacker organisation, so you can free London from a fascist megacorp. But, as ever, the real baddies are not so easily got. In this episode, we speak to hacker expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University about the culture of underground hacker groups, and the origin of government-opposed “hacktivists”.

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