COMPUTER GAMES THAT WON'T HURT YOUR HEAD
Based on the past three years, it's a safe bet that videogames will score big gains again this holiday season. According to one source, Nintendo of America sold over 13 million consoles by the end of 1988, and it expects to peddle 5 million more before this decade closes. A little number-crunching on my four-dollar calculator suggests that one out of every three American families knows Mario and Luigi.
And Nintendo isn't alone. Japan's Sega Enterprises has been in the business for years. By now, NEC Home Electronics should have its Turbo-Grafx 16 in stores, and there will certainly be other products making their debut this holiday season.
So what's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. Still, it seems to me that today's best game machines suffer from the same fatal flaw that killed Pong and its fellows: lack of versatility. How long can any of us go on beating our heads against bricks or playing arrow-key baseball without suffering serious psychological damage or incurring a hopeless case of boredom?
In the battle between personal computers and dedicated game machines, I'll take the PC every time. Not only can real computers play some excellent games, but they can assist with productive work and educate the family as well. If you'd rather your children play baseball outside your living room, if you prefer taking leisurely Sunday drives to crashing two-dimensional race cars into television trees, if you share my suspicion that children can learn and enjoy simultaneously, then consider these alternatives.
For anyone interested in international politics, Mindscape's Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition should prove a worthy challenge. Call it a game if you wish, but it's really a powerful simulation designed to test your knowledge of geography, history, political science, psychology, military strategy, and the art of negotiations. Players become world leaders pro tem, representing either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. Those who gain greatest prestige and influence, whether by diplomacy or military action, win. If any player or the optional computer opponent pushes his or her luck too far, everyone loses in a nuclear war. In concept it's somewhat like the popular board game Risk, but it's considerably more complex. Among other things, it includes world maps to illustrate current alliances and areas of unrest, a historical database for research, four computer-based advisers to assist in decision making, and four difficulty levels from Beginner to Multipolar (a variation where players must worry not only about their opponents, but also about more than 70 smaller countries.)
If serious matters of war and peace aren't your game, maybe trivia is. When Trivial Pursuit came out a few years ago, its popularity rivaled that of the Cabbage Patch Kids and Glow Worm. This year Gessler Publishing began marketing a computer version of Trivial Pursuit. Unlike the board game, this one includes questions that use music and graphics. What makes it especially valuable from an educator's view is that it comes in Spanish and French versions. It's great for reinforcing foreign-language skills.
For developing logical thinking in students from grades 5 to 12, you might want to try Davidson's new Math Blaster Mystery. Its detective format and four challenging math activities combine to make learning effective and fun. Each activity consists of a series of mathematical brainteasers. Students learn to solve math word problems in Follow the Steps. Selecting and piling the correct weights to total a given number is the challenge of Weigh the Evidence: You're given three scales and four weights, and bigger weights cannot be placed on smaller ones. It's relatively easy when working with whole numbers but harder when fractions, decimals, and whole numbers are mixed together. Decipher the Code presents mathematical expressions with all numbers missing. Deducing the correct numbers takes serious thought even at Level 1. Level 4 should prove tough enough for Mom and Dad. In Search for Clues, players analyze clues to discover a mystery number. The fewer the clues required, the higher the score. You can enter your own puzzles; a recordkeeping section stores results for later reference.
For maintaining interest in a new computer, you may want to consider a disk magazine. These hybrid software-editorial packages often include a few programs (utilities, games, art, desk accessories, and productivity tools), as well as more traditional magazine stuff like editorials, columns, and letters. For example, Softdisk Publishing recently started a Macintosh magazine-on-disk called Diskworld. The company also publishes Loadstar/Loadstar 128 for Commodore users and Big Blue Disk for IBM users.
Of course, you can't play Mario Brothers on personal computers. Then again, none of these programs will hurt your head.