2006-11-30 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Let the games begin
By Sam Bari

It's about that time when some thought must be given to the Santa Claus set, and the things they want for Christmas. After all, we are expected to augment Santa's generous nature with a gift or two that will inspire fits of excitement and expressions of joy on the faces of the little ones.

Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, a new checker game, chess set, deck of cards, or backgammon board was pretty much the standard order of the day. Scrabble and Monopoly might have rounded out the inventory in more progressive households. A few years later, the first video oriented games came out on clumsy boxes with wires that plugged into television sets. The first Pac Man and Pong were considered high-tech and stateof the art.

I thought it was time to check out the game and toy situation in the 21st century, just to see what some of my little friends might like to find under their trees. Well... I must say, the words of the great Bob Dylan, "The Times They are A-Changin'," never rang truer than in the world of video toys and gaming.

On standard and portable play stations, players can watch movies, listen to music, download TV programs, connect to the Internet, play games with other players all over the world, and even talk to each other in real time. If you're not familiar with these things, believe me, they are awesome.

A 10-year-old neighbor named Kevin took me on a tour of the video gaming world and I attempted to play a few with him. He introduced me to FPS technology. I bet you think I don't know what that means . . . well, you're right, but I played with it anyway. He said, "It's all about hand and eye coordination." Apparently, a high performance model of this human function was issued to people born after 1995, because I do not have it. We played one car-racing game, and I totally destroyed a brand new Ferrari at the starting line. I have no idea how that happened.

Kevin introduced me to the esoteric language used by gamers. Many of the terms sound like normal words, but their meanings are quite different. I learned about campers, clients, first person shooters, flaming, FOVs, and frags. He taught me the meaning of GJP, 1337 (I am not one of those), llamas (I am sometimes one of those), overclocking, quake levels, and rocket jumps. All of these terms are defined on a need to know basis. I wasn't good enough at any game to need to know, but he told me anyway. I felt privileged.

He also showed me my AGP. I always knew that an AGP was an accelerated graphics port on my motherboard used specifically for a graphics card that can transfer data at 266MBps, 533MBps, or 1.007GBps, compared to the PCI speed of 133MBps. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that means. However, I do know that I have one. It's the little brown slot somewhere near the white PCI slot on the side of my 'puter. Huh? I said that a lot.

Does anybody out there remember those really dumb game books that were filled with puzzles and mazes? You had to draw your way through the maze without hitting the dead ends. There's a new version of this game. It's in 3-D High Definition, and it puts you in the maze, and it is really scary. You move through the jungle-like corridors controlling your direction and speed with a joystick while monsters and other things chase and grab you. It's a wide-awake nightmare. I died so many times that my little mentor felt sorry for me and turned off the game. Then he told me it was for three- to six-year-olds.

Kevin also showed me educational games that taught kids how to play music and understand music theory. Other games improved math and reading skills. I was impressed. Then he looked at me and said, "You don't care about these games for kids. You wanna see the good stuff, right?" I nodded, yes. I had heard about the good stuff but didn't want to appear too eager. "We all want the good stuff. I have some of it, but now a lot of the programs are designed for young adults over eighteen and it's hard to get copies," he said.

The good stuff started with an older program. It was a simulator for an M1A1 Abrams tank. This kid knew how to drive an Abrams tank from a real simulator. He could also fly an F-18 fighter jet. I was speechless. He told me that he read on a gamer blog that some teenagers took the Air Force simulator test for the F-18 and passed with higher grades than some of the academy students, and the teenagers hadn't had one second of real flight time. He said it was because their hand and eye coordination was better than the old guys in the academy. "Huh?" This is frightening. The next generation of fighter pilots could be an average age of 12 years old.

I believe the world of video gaming is definitely part of that system I can't understand.

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