Giphy’s eyeball-melting ‘micro-games’ are kind of genius

In my original Giphy micro-game, “taunting kittay,” an angelic dog pelts a tennis ball at a maniacal cat against a rainbow-colored pulsating heart background. The overwhelming response from my coworkers was that it gave them a headache. Yessss, victory.

Giphy launched a new product called Giphy Arcade on Wednesday. Giphy Arcade is a web-based gaming platform, for mobile or desktop, where users can play and create 10-second, bright, retro-tastic games filled with stickers and sticker gifs from Giphy’s library. 

In Giphy Arcade, you can play games created by Giphy users (and brand partners), like “Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” in which you have to keep a giant shrimp aloft and safe from dancing left sharks. The music and bright, ugly graphics are a diabolically great mash-up of ’80s and ’90s arcade aesthetics with classic flash games and internet native meme culture.

Best of all, you can easily create games that live in Giphy Arcade, which you can share and send to your friends. You choose from a few game templates, and then customize them with stickers from Giphy’s searchable database. For example, my “taunting kittay” game is basically Brick Breaker, a game I used to play on my flip phone in high school. Now, in my Giphy Arcade version, the dog is the moving line, the tennis ball is, well, the ball, and those demon cats are the bricks. 

“We drew a lot of inspiration from classic 80’s and 90s games so that the mechanics would be very accessible, even for those who don’t necessarily consider themselves gamers,” Nick Santaniello, a Giphy senior product engineer, told Mashable over email.

Giphy's eyeball-melting 'micro-games' are kind of genius

Giphy Arcade is part of a larger trend in which firms you wouldn’t necessarily think of as “gaming” companies are adding short-form interactive games into their platforms. Snap incorporated Bitmoji games directly into the app and Tinder launched a 5-minute weekly interactive “TV show” called Swipe Night in which your choices affect your matches and Tinder profile. In addition to keeping users interested, gameplay is a valuable, active form of interaction for brands (and the advertisers they court) because it can potentially keep users more engaged than passive scrolling.

After six years in business and $150 million raised in venture capital, Giphy is beginning its march toward profitability. The company launched Arcade with Wendy’s and is considering more brand integrations down the road.

“Our immediate goal for GIPHY Arcade is to get the product to consumers and see how they interact with it,” Santaniello said. “As far as further monetization plans, it’s something we are exploring!”

The fact that the games are branded doesn’t make them less enjoyable. That’s probably because they’re so obviously sponsored in line with the post-ironic attitude of the whole experience. 

That has a lot to do with the simplicity of the games themselves, the warped nostalgia of the graphics and music, and the savvy players who can see branded content coming from a mile away (so why hide it)? Embracing the garishness — whether through flying hamburgers or clashing color schemes — is all part of the fun.

“We wanted it to evoke early 00’s web/flash games and deliberately designed it in way where it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Santaniello said. 

Perhaps most important, though, is the speed and ease of the experience. The games are between 5 and 10 seconds, and if you don’t figure out how to play immediately, you can re-play until you do, or skip to the next one. In other words, the stakes are incredibly low. 

They’re playable on desktop or mobile (and didn’t even crash my janky iPhone 6), and are vertically oriented for a smartphone. Also, they’re funny.

Creating a game is also surprisingly easy, too. Giphy walks you through a couple steps that end with a game and custom link. First, you choose your game template, which Giphy illustrates through generic, moving shapes. 

Giphy's eyeball-melting 'micro-games' are kind of genius

Next, you customize the elements of the game — for example, your hero and your enemy. For this, Giphy serves up its searchable sticker library. Next you pick from several strobing backgrounds, and then you select an arcade theme song. Finally, you get to title your game, and, voila! That’s it.

Nineties aesthetics are having a moment. Older millennials are drawn to reliving childhood memories, while younger millennials and Gen Z-ers get to revel in the unpolished simplicity of scrunchies and Friends episodes. Giphy Arcade taps into both of those desires. 

The feature’s success will depend on whether it can go beyond a gimmick and become something real people enjoy and use regularly. Santaniello called Arcade a “natural next step” after GIFs, stickers, and animated emoji, saying “microgames allow us to add a challenging, interactive element to Stickers. This is why we made GIPHY Arcade both easily shareable and accessible, so they can quickly be added into any conversation.”

Most of all, encountering something actually fun on the internet is rare enough that Giphy Arcade at least deserves a chance.

What do you think of Giphy Arcade? Make your own game, share it with @Mashable on Twitter, and we’ll retweet you!

Website peddling 26 million stolen credit and debit cards got hacked

Not even professional digital fraudsters are immune to getting hacked. 

This was made abundantly clear today following a report by Krebs on Security that an online shop offering approximately 26 million stolen debit and credit card numbers for sale was itself the victim of a hack. And, perhaps best of all, the site’s entire purloined library might have been tainted in the process. 

Krebs on Security notes that the carding site in question, BriansClub, appears to have gathered its stolen card numbers over the course of the past four years from both online and physical retail stores. The site’s FAQ page explains that it “[sells] the dumps (track2/track1) with country, state, city, zip information (optional) and CVV2 cards.”

Track 1 and Track 2 refer to different bits-per-inch encoded data on credit cards’ magnetic stripes.

A screenshot of the "dumps" page on BriansClub.

A screenshot of the “dumps” page on BriansClub.

Image: screenshot / briansclub

According to Brian Krebs, the noted cybersecurity reporter who runs Krebs on Security, last month he was sent a file allegedly containing BriansClub’s entire database of stolen cards. Some of the cards in the file matched redacted versions on sale at BrainsClub, lending credence to the claim that the file was legitimate. 

This hack might have simply been a reminder that nothing online is secure — even sites designed to thrive off that insecurity — were it not for what came next. 

“All of the card data stolen from BriansClub,” writes Krebs, “was shared with multiple sources who work closely with financial institutions to identify and monitor or reissue cards that show up for sale in the cybercrime underground.”

In other words, there is a decent chance that a large percentage of these card numbers are now flagged as having been compromised. 

To make this entire situation even more ridiculous, BriansClub was reportedly named after Brian Krebs as some sort of joke. 

Notably, for all those stressing carde out there, BriansClub does claim to offer refunds. “For invalid cards you will get refund immediately,” reads the site’s FAQ. 

We reached out to the BriansClub site admin via its support ticket page for comment on the alleged hack and the possibility that its cards are now worthless. We received no immediate response. 

Perhaps whoever runs BriansClub is too busy processing refund requests. 

6 states that recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year

The second Monday in October, long referred to as “Columbus Day” in recognition of the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, has increasingly come to be recognized as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” in cities and states across the U.S.

In an effort to better acknowledge the atrocities committed by Columbus and his crew against Indigenous communities in the Americas, Indigenous advocates have called for the day to instead recognize and celebrate the diverse cultures and traditions of Indigenous people. The effort has been a long one; the designation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed at a United Nations conference in 1977. 

The movement to change the title and focus of the day has gained momentum in recent years. Of the 13 states that officially acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day, six did so for the first time this year. 

1. Louisiana 

Baley Champagne, a tribal citizen of the United Houma Nation, petitioned the office of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this year, requesting official recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the state. Her request received a response on Sept. 11, just three weeks after she filed the request, according to KALB reporting. A month later, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was officially celebrated in Louisiana. 

“We’re still here, but we’re not celebrated or recognized. We go unnoticed a lot,” Champagne told WAFB, a news station in Louisiana. “This proclamation brings a conversation, awareness, and recognition.” 

2. Maine 

Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law in April 2019 that would acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of the former Columbus Day holiday within the state of Maine. 

Mills called it an “overdue step forward to heal past wrongs.”

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3. Michigan 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation calling for Michigan’s acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The proclamation urges  Michigan residents “to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples on this land, and to celebrate the thriving cultures and values that the Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and other indigenous peoples contribute to society.” 

While her proclamation extends only to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2019, legislation in the state senate has called for changing the name permanently. Major cities in Michigan already celebrate the holiday on a city level, including Detroit and Ann Arbor. 

4. New Mexico 

In New Mexico, a state where Native Americans comprise 10.9% of the population according to U.S. census estimates, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision this year to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day has big implications. 

“This new holiday will mark a celebration of New Mexico’s 23 sovereign indigenous nations and the essential place of honor native citizens hold in the fabric of our great state,” Lujan Grisham told CNN. 

5. Wisconsin 

An executive order issued by Gov. Tony Evers last week makes this year’s October holiday the first to be officially recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin. Evers’ executive order also advocates for changes in Wisconsin schools, encouraging the day to be seen “as an opportunity to engage students across the state on the importance of Native American history, culture and tribal sovereignty.”

6. Vermont 

Vermont unofficially acknowledged Indigenous Peoples’ Day since 2016, but 2019 marks the first year that Gov. Phil Scott also abolished Columbus Day.  

“I think that we need to rely on history and talk about history on all different levels,” Scott said to WCAX, a local station. 

Atari’s retro console project appears to be completely falling apart

Things are not looking good behind the scenes of the Atari VCS, Atari’s retro console loaded with more than 100 old games, despite what Atari would like everyone to think.

On the same day that Atari released a blog post updating the world on the progress the company was making on the VCS console’s hardware, The Register reported Tuesday that the Atari system architect Rob Wyatt quit the project on Oct. 4, stating that Atari hadn’t paid invoices to his design firm for more than six months.

Not only that, The Register spoke with sources involved with the project, one of whom called it a “shit show.”

That really doesn’t look good, especially when you couple it with the fact that there have been several delays in the development of the Atari VCS since it was first teased in 2017. With an expected shipping date for the $250 console set in the vague window of “early 2020,” we haven’t seen a lot of concrete progress on the VCS. Atari was also accused of failing to pay another individual involved in the early stages of Atari VCS development, Feargal Mac Conuladh, according to a lawsuit filed against the company.

Atari’s blog post appears to show a bit of progress on the development of the console, but there are some red flags littered all throughout the update.

It appears Atari doesn’t want to give anyone too much hope

In three instances in the blog post, which shows photos of the console’s motherboard and a handful of pieces of what will make up the outside of the console, it notes either that a certain feature isn’t visible in the photo, or the picture doesn’t accurately represent what it actually looks like.

You would think that in a blog post created specifically to show off hardware progress, the parts they’re talking about would be fully shown and the pictures they shared would live up to the words and promises that are being shared. It appears Atari doesn’t want to give anyone too much hope.

Additionally, Atari made sure to note that backers for their IndieGoGo campaign would be getting finished hardware products but not finished software, and Atari would be relying on them to help provide ” feedback and ideas” before the Atari VCS hits retail in the spring. At least they’re being honest that they aren’t shipping backers a finished product.

The Atari VCS is looking less and less like a video game console akin to Nintendo’s NES Classic or Sega’s Genesis Mini and more like a cheap Linux PC in a chassis that’s inspired by the Atari 2600.

The Register received a response from Atari’s PR firm, stating: “Atari wishes to inform you that some of your questions indicate that you possess information that is incorrect and/or outdated. In addition, some aspects of the Atari VCS project clearly have been leaked to you in violation of existing confidentiality agreements, and Atari therefore hereby reserves its rights in that respect.” 

Atari didn’t refute anything specific in this statement, which calls into question the suggestion that The Register actually misrepresented anything in its reporting.

If you’re a backer of the Atari VCS, keep your fingers crossed that Atari actually hits its latest promise of shipping consoles in early 2020.

Donald Trump Jr. tried to insult Kamala Harris. It backfired spectacularly.

Members of the Trump family should think twice before challenging the 2020 Democratic candidates on Twitter. They’re witty, they’re not afraid to speak their minds, and they will tweet back.

Just ask Donald Trump Jr., who recently tried to insult California Senator and Democratic candidate  Kamala Harris. On Friday, Trump Jr. tweeted a short clip of Harris laughing at herself while answering questions at a podium and wrote, “Why is @KamalaHarris the only person that laughs at her jokes… always way to [sic] long and way too hard? The most disingenuous person in politics… after Hillary.”

Shortly after Trump Jr. flexed his weak sense of humor, Harris replied with a genuinely funny joke that insulted not only Trump Jr., but his dear old dad as well.

“You wouldn’t know a joke if one raised you,” she wrote. 

At the time of writing this article, Trump Jr.’s tweet had around 43,000 likes, and Harris’ tweet — which, remember, was tweeted an hour later — had around 391,000 likes. I’m no expert in Twitter analytics, but I think that means Twitter users liked Kamala’s tweet a whole lot more, right?

Judging from the reactions to the Senator’s burn, my theory checks out.

If Trump Jr. doesn’t have anything nice to tweet perhaps next time he should consider tweeting nothing at all .

Instagram deserves more scrutiny after Russian troll farm investigation

Instagram played a much larger role in Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 elections than Facebook initially let on. That’s one of many striking findings of a bipartisan Senate investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the report makes clear that Instagram played a large role in the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency’s “information warfare campaign.”

“On the basis of engagement and audience following measures, the Instagram social media platform was the most effective tool used by the IRA to conduct its information operations campaign,” the report notes

This is striking in part because Facebook has long downplayed Instagram’s role in Russia’s election interference. The company previously told Congress that, according to its estimates, only 20 million people say IRA posts on Instagram (Facebook’s general counsel told Congress the IRA reached 126 million on Facebook proper.) 

“Instagram was the most effective tool used by the IRA”

But the Senate report makes clear that the IRA’s real influence on Instagram was much higher. The top two most popular IRA Instagram accounts alone generated more than 46 million interactions, according to the report. “In total, over the course of more than two years spent as an instrument for foreign influence operations, 12 of the IRA’s Instagram accounts amassed over 100,000 followers, and nearly half of the IRA’s 133 Instagram accounts each had more than 10,000 followers,” the report says.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that its previous assessment of IRA activity on Instagram was “somewhat incomplete,” but suggested that some Instagram users who interacted with the accounts in question also interacted with IRA content on Facebook. 

“As we said previously, our data regarding the number of Instagram users who were reached by IRA content is somewhat incomplete, but based on the data available, we assess that 20 million unique Americans saw an IRA post on Instagram that didn’t see one on Facebook,” the spokesperson said.

The Senate report is not the first time questions have been raised about the IRA’s use of Instagram. Researcher Jonathan Albright previously found that Instagram was a much bigger source of Russia-backed disinformation than Facebook had previously claimed. 

“Facebook’s sibling property has largely been left as an afterthought,” Albright wrote in 2017, referring to Instagram. “Instagram is a major distributor and re-distributor of IRA propaganda that’s at the very least on par with Twitter. In my opinion, the platform is far more impactful than Twitter for content-based ‘meme’ engagement — especially for certain minority segments of the American population.” (Facebook subsequently shut off Albright’s ability to access data he used in his initial research.) 

But the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report proves that Albright and others were right to push for more information about the IRA’s use of Instagram, which we now know was far more widespread than previously claimed. 

Blind man sued Domino’s over its website. Here’s what the Supreme Court had to say.

Ordering food online is supposed to be convenient— but Domino’s Pizza needs to ensure that it’s convenient for everyone. 

The Supreme Court passed on reviewing a case from the pizza chain Monday, which questioned whether it has to make its website and mobile app accessible for people with disabilities. 

This decision is a victory for blind people and those with limited vision who need to access websites and apps just as easily as any sighted person. The decision could also inspire others to sue retailers to make sure their websites and mobile apps are accessible.

The case, known as Domino’s Pizza LLC. v. Guillermo Robles, started when a blind man, Guillermo Robles, sued Domino’s in 2016 after he was unable to order food from the pizza chain using screen reading technology. His attorneys cited the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with Robles, arguing under the ADA that customers should be able to access “the services of a public accommodation.” In this case, that means Domino’s website and mobile app. 

The pizza chain, on the other hand, argued that the ADA shouldn’t apply to online spaces.

Domino’s wanted the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision, but because it won’t, the lower court’s ruling will remain in place. 

“The blind and visually impaired must have access to websites and apps to fully and equally participate in modern society – something nobody disputes,” Robles’ lawyer, Joe Manning, said in a statement to CNBC. “This outcome furthers that critical objective for them and is a credit to our society.”

Christina Brandt-Young, managing attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, told Mashable that the ADA should indeed include websites. “[The ADA] always applied to effective communication between businesses and their customers and that’s what Domino’s uses its websites for — to communicate with their customers.”

Predictably, Domino’s is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Creating a nation-wide standard will eliminate the tsunami of website accessibility litigation that has been filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers exploiting the absence of a standard for their own benefit, and chart a common path for both businesses and non-profit institutions to follow in meeting the accessibility needs of the disabled community,” Domino’s said in an online statement

Since Domino’s wants to keep fighting, it’ll have to do so in the lower courts. If differing judicial opinions arise then the Supreme Court could reconsider and take up the case in the future. Brandt-Young says that’s unlikely, though.

This isn’t the first time, companies have come under fire over their allegedly inaccessible websites. As the Wall Street Journal reported, over 240 businesses in the U.S. were sued over this issue since the beginning of 2015. 

While many of these companies settled, Domino’s seems to be bracing itself for the long run. 

UPDATE: Oct. 7, 2019, 5:19 p.m. EDT Updated with comment from Christina Brandt-Young, managing attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.

A paralyzed man walked with a brain-controlled exoskeleton

A man mostly paralyzed from the shoulders down has spent the last two years working with researchers to control an exoskeleton with his mind.

On Thursday, researchers at the University of Grenoble released results of the trial (funded by Clinatec), saying the work indicates that operating a four-limb robotic system could be feasible for patients with tetraplegia (loss of control of all four limbs). In the most complex use of the system, the patient, a 28-year-old french man identified as Thibault, walked.

The system is far from a patient-ready solution. Instead, the researchers’ and patient’s work training the algorithm that interprets brain signals and turns them into physical movement, indicates that technology like this is possible.

“Ours’ is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs,” Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, president of the Clinatec Executive Board, a CEA laboratory, and Professor Emeritus from the University of Grenoble, France, said in a press release.

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Thibault suffered a cervical spine injury that left him without control of his legs. He retained some movement in his biceps and left wrist, so he’s been operating a wheelchair with his left arm.

To let him control something external through brain signals, researchers implanted two sensors between the patient’s skin and brain (not in the brain itself). The sensors were able to record brain activity in the sensorimotor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement and sensation.

Researchers noted that other studies have implanted chips and sensors directly into the brain, and kept them connected to computers with wires. By contrast, this study’s sensors were less invasive, and connected wirelessly.

The next step was to train an algorithm to interpret the signals, and translate them into movement. The patient did this by playing a game similar to Pong, where he moved a platform left or right to catch a digital ball. He also practiced more complex movements, like reaching out a hand, and turning a wrist, through a virtual simulation.

That work in the digital realm enabled training on a mechanical exoskeleton with 14 moveable joints. He began by moving the arms of the machine to touch various levers.

Finally, Thibault was able to walk with the exoskeleton. The machine was still attached to the ceiling for stability, and cannot give the balance (or “equilibrium”) required for walking on one’s own. But the complex movement demonstrated the ability to control the skeleton with one’s mind.

Researchers say the technology could hold promise for patients to perhaps operate their wheelchairs through their brains.

“Our findings could move us a step closer to helping tetraplegic patients to drive computers using brain signals alone, perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility,” Professor Stephan Chabardes, neurosurgeon from the CHU of Grenoble-Alpes, said.

This futuristic treatment doesn’t mean that paralyzed people will be able to walk on their own in the near future. But Thibault’s walk is a step in that direction.

Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are together at last in thrilling ‘The Good Liar’ trailer

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How have Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren never been in a film together before now? Britain, what have you been doing? (Actually, don’t answer that.) 

The Good Liar is here to fix this egregious oversight, though. With Sir Ian as a con artist and Dame Helen as his wealthy mark, it looks a bit more Six Degrees Of Separation than Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and like a sexy, vicious time for all involved. There’s some nasty business in the back of a butcher’s shop and some equally brutal, very British exchanging of looks and pointed questions over dinner. 

Directed by veteran and McKellen fave Bill Condon, it’s in theaters in November. We’re going to watch the shit out of it.