Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 123 / NOVEMBER 1990 / PAGE 80




Zing!... Boom!... Smash! ... Zap! Typical arcade game sounds, right? But don't bet there isn't some good learning going on. Even if your troops refuse to read the comics, they'll jump at the chance to read when reading is part of a thrilling computer game.

Start your search for the right games by considering game features along with your youngster's particular interests and abilities. There's got to be a careful balance between arcade action and reading level if you want to keep kids coming back for more. A lot of typing may prove frustrating to poor spellers, while poorly motivated readers need challenging puzzles and social acceptability.

To help you pick the perfect program, I've taken several popular computer games and grouped them according to required reading ability. Weak readers will find that the games in group 1 offer a lot of arcade action, involve relatively simple sentence structure, and require no typing skills. Hesitant readers will like group 2 games because they require more reading skills, present more difficult puzzles, and still have enough arcade segments to keep students thinking they're playing a game. Group 3 games should appeal to good but poorly motivated readers. They'll need their sophisticated reading skills, but the reward is increased intellectual challenge with enough adventure sequences to keep things jumping.

Games for Weak Readers

Readers who stumble over three-syllable words, tend to ignore punctuation, and need control over text speed will like the two programs in this group. Three-syllable words are used infrequently, only about once in every 15 words. When a game's top reading level is grade 6, you can expect sentences to be short and simple.

To keep things really simple, both use a "bump" interface. In order to pick up something, ask a question, or even fight, you must first bump the animated character into the object. Once there, the computer will ask the appropriate question for you. There are no choices; you just get to do the reading. Young or inexperienced gamers find this method very reassuring. Even if they don't understand all of the words in the text, they can still play the game and solve the puzzles.

Hillsfar. Magically transformed into a thief, a fighter, a cleric, or a magic user, you follow the advice of the head of your guild, bone up on your archery skills, and practice fighting. You'll need these skills and more to survive in Hillsfar. Every 3–5 minutes, you'll have to do some reading; the rest of the time you can roam the countryside, explore mazes, or toss daggers at targets. Each of the roles you pick to play has different puzzles to solve and directions to follow.

Super Solvers Midnight Rescue. Morty Maxwell has threatened to make the school invisible and you're the only hope. Can you read the clues he's left scattered all over the building and take enough pictures of his fiendish robot friends to prevent this disaster? Originally created as an educational tool, this game has enough arcade action to keep kids coming back for more.

Games for Hesitant Readers

Hesitant readers have basic reading skills, but, fearing failure, they often refuse to pick up a book. The best programs for them have a higher reading level (grade 7–8) and more three-syllable words (about 1 in 10 rather than 1 in 15). Sentences will be more complex, the puzzles a little harder to solve. Arcade sections will be fewer and of much less importance.

Interactive graphics add an important level of complexity to the games in this group. To direct the action, you'll have to pick from a supplied list of only 6–12 vocabulary words. To interact with an object—say to use a beer stein to put out a fire—you'd have to click on the verb use, click on the object beer stein, and click on noun fire. The computer would then write the sentence for you and perform the action. Easier to use than to describe, this interface improves the realism and dramatically increases the potential complexity of the puzzles.

Space excitement keeps kids reading.

Join Indy in this computer adventure.

Maniac Mansion. The inhabitants of this creepy house may look nasty, but some of them are actually friendly. Despite their penchant for locking you up in the basement (hint: check out those loose bricks), you can get killed only by doing something really stupid. Older users will find the slightly warped sense of humor particularly appealing.

Shadowgate. If you can survive your encounter with the ghoul of a ruined castle and are smart enough to use the tools provided, you might get out alive.

Clever graphics and exciting text rather than arcade sequences make this adventure game come alive. Text appearing at the bottom of the screen is completely under user control, a big advantage for slow readers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure. Explore the catacombs of Venice and wander through Castle Brunwald. Can you bluff your way past students, guards, and checkpoints as well as Indy does? When you get to the Grail Temple, all you have to do is figure out which is the right cup.

This game combines a few arcade sequences with a lot of reading and traveling. The topic is popular, the graphics are super, and the game is fun to play. The handwriting in some sections of the Grail Diary is tough to decipher, but this didn't dismay my testers. They were keen enough on the concept to spend hours trying to rescue Indy's father and find the Grail.

Good but Unmotivated Readers

Poorly motivated readers have the skills; what they really lack is practice. For them you'll need to pick programs that provide significant challenge to make them want to keep reading. These titles have reading levels up to grade 11, complex sentence structures, and sophisticated puzzles. There aren't many arcade segments, and frequent movielike sequences cover story ground quickly.

Only the Carmen series uses the bump technique; all of the other programs in this group make the user type in the instructions. These type-as-you-go interfaces offer literally hundreds of possible vocabulary words and thousands of different combinations of commands. While this incredible flexibility makes these games a lot of fun, they're also potentially very frustrating. Remind your youngsters to jot down important words for future use. This precaution will come in handy when they eventually run into a dead end.

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Your task is to figure out the identity of a thief, track the thief back to a hiding place, and make the arrest. The graphics in the newest version are super, the clues are challenging, and the game is fun. Each chase is short, so you won't get too frustrated if you get confused. Where else can you find a family-oriented reading game that is equally challenging for kids and adults?

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? Now you'll need a Chromoskimmer to travel through time and space if you hope to catch Carmen's gang of thieves. The New American Desk Encyclopedia helps you decipher the clues, but be careful: Not everything is what it seems. References to the Netherlands or the Dutch, for example, are used to refer to hiding places located in Holland, a complexity that may confuse a weak reader attracted by the clever graphics and interesting motif.

Kings Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. In a land of fairy tales and fantasy, you must help Rosella save her father. It's not the reading level that makes this game tough; it's the thousands of possibilities provided by the typing interface that make this series a challenge. Don't forget to buy the clue book; you'll need all the help you can get.

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon. Rescue two programmers that have been kidnapped by a competing software firm with a reputation for being pretty nasty. While you can't get violent, the people you meet aren't as hesitant. Watch your step or you might get fried, smashed or eaten. Here, as in the King's Quest series, the innumerable possibilities make this game a challenge. Super graphics, an exciting plot, and tough puzzles will keep kids going for hours.

Help Rosella save her father.

Reading Levels

Reading level is important when choosing one of these games, but not that important. If a program really grabs the interest of youngsters, don't discourage them. Often the struggle is as much fun as winning the game. And if the struggle is too much, you can always sit down and play the game with them.

If you want to help your children do their level best in reading, make it fun. Make it a game.