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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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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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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Do you have a brain parasite? (Baldur’s Gate 3)

With guest co-host Andy Kelly!

The parasites are here, and 50% of the global population is already infected. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this parasite seems to be a quiet one… mostly. In this episode we speak to Joanne Webster, a professor of infectious diseases, about the microscopic cat-borne organism Toxoplasma Gondii – the closest thing humans have to the mind-altering brain tadpoles of Baldur’s Gate 3.

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Is war in space inevitable? (Star Wars: Squadrons)

With guest co-host Emma Kent!

Pew pew. That’s the sound of lasers whipping past your head in new space shooter Star Wars: Squadrons. Don’t worry, it’s all make-believe. Or is it? For this episode, we speak to an expert of space militarisation about the weapons and strategies used by Earth nations to snarl at other governments in orbit. Victoria Samson is a political scientist at the Secure World Foundation and she is here to tell us that war in space is (surprise surprise) a very bad idea indeed.

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What does real cave exploration look like? (Spelunky 2)

With guest co-host Paul Dean!

It’s dark down here, in the perilous caves of cartoony platformer Spelunky 2. If only there was some sort of caving instructor we could speak to, who could tell us how to survive. Oh, there is, and we have spoken to her for this episode of Hey Lesson! Christine Grosart is a caver, diver and medic who has found actual skulls in caves. With her help, we can navigate the hazards of earth’s real unseen depths, and the dangerous animals that lurk beneath, such as… sheep?

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Why do we crave ‘likes’? (Death Stranding)

With guest host Matthew Castle!

In post-apocalyptic hiking simulator Death Stranding, there is a weird holographic internet floating around in the air. See a nice bridge? Hit that ‘like’ button. You can even make a helpful structure other players will ‘like’ in return – a watchtower, a shelter, a strange mushroom. But why do we crave ‘likes’ in the first place? In this episode, we speak to neuroscientist Dr Ofir Turel about what happens to our brains when we spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even the weird world of Death Stranding.

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