The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on September 29, 1996 · Page 53
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 53

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Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 29, 1996
Page:
Page 53
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KID-TECH BY DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF The battle for your child's brain As Nintendo 64 hits, an expert on kids' electronic games scans the field oftwitchy rivals T HIS WEEK, AMID a multimillion-dollar marketing blitz, Nintendo finally launches the latest and most powerful home video game machine known to man, the Nintendo 64. Children are salivating, parents are quivering and educational software companies are gearing up for the electronic war of the century: the battle for your child's brain. It's just a game, right? Try telling that to the game makers. With the electronic entertainment industry expected to grow to $20 billion by the end of the decade, vying for young Johnny's or Jane's attention span is serious business. And video game companies like Nintendo would like nothing more than to see your tykes fused to their joysticks. To compete, educational software companies have pumped up their new fall titles with elaborate graphics and fast-paced play. In the process, they hope to entertain and teach kids. I've had a chance to compare the Nintendo 64 game system with new educational games for the computer. I can confidently report that the results, so far, are mixed. If it's pure "twitch" the kids are after, Nintendo has the clear edge. Boasting a processing chip developed by Silicon Graphics (which created the aerial bovine effects for the movie Tbister), the Nintendo 64 is a technological miracle. Nintendo has bet its bankroll on this new machine to regain market share it lost to Sega and Sony. The years (and delays) spent developing it have paid off. I dazzled my neighbors' kids with the preview of the rewed-up flagship Super Mario game. You no longer merely watch Mario; you become Mario, running and flying through dreamy supernatural worlds. I'm still the most popular adult on my block. The next night, I tested Simon & Schuster's I.M. Meen, an educational CD-ROM game, on the kids, after I RANOAU. ENDS FOfl USA WEEKEND The chummy plumber gets a 3-D makeover in Super Mario 64 (left). Nds play park ranger in SlmPark (right). finally convinced them the Nintendo 64 wasn't even in my apartment anymore. (The truth: It was hidden in the closet.) The graphics were convincing and play-action was smooth. We wandered through a darkened hallway and suddenly a giant spider leapt out at us. We struck him with our fists, and he fell to the ground in a clump. We got to a door where we were sud- denly confronted with ... a punctuation quiz. The kids didn't like it, resenting that vitamins were slipped into their video candy, and wouldn't even try Simon & Schuster's new fall title, Chill Manor. (I checked it out, though; it ran pretty much the same.) I wonder whether competing with the fast-paced action games is really the best strategy for educational publishers. They're more than outgunned by Nintendo, and their games tend to suffer with the weight of blatantly educational content. Maybe video games aren't the place to teach school skills. Besides, the Nintendo action games do teach puzzle-solving and pattern recognition. The trick is to use the computer to create something as compelling as, but very different from, action games. SimPark, which puts a child in the role of a ranger sustaining a nature conservancy, probably has done the best job so far. Of the "Sim" games, all by Maxis, SimPark is by far the most visually stunning. Players plant trees, release animals and even manage tourists. The child has total control; the only things he must answer to are nature, fires, soil erosion and human traffic. Trees change with the seasons, and every tiny decision affects the environment. One of the kids created a park with nothing but frogs, but quickly learned that none of them could survive without insects, plants and other species. Educational software developers hoping to survive in a world overrun by video game companies may have to learn the same lesson, ca Douglas Rushkoff Is the author of Playing the Future. REVIEW BITS: A quick primer on the new Nintendo 64 system and educational computer games new in stores this fall. AVAILABLE PRICE NOW IT PLAYS SimPark (ages 8 and up) Km 9-13) Someone's In the WMH»Pfi Pt»o ratchenl (ages 4-7) fjE(Miti4») this Sunday November October November October $199.99 $39.95 $39.95 $34.95 $34.95 3-D graphics up the "way cool* ante. Addicting. Go nuts Fun. planting rows of magnolias. Borrows Animal sounds, sampled from the from actual grizzly bears popular and other creatures, add Doom 3-D to the atmosphere. format. Ophelia Chill give* j tour of Chill Mdtiur. Funky Crisp graphics, animation Kids dig up bones and funny to reconstruct tunes will dinosaurs, entertain the I younger set. EDUCATIONAL MERIT This is Nintendo, not a tutor. A gold star. Kids must sustain an ecosystem; make the wrong move and watch your sycamore trees perish. Children learn history of Greece and Rome, but the lessons interrupt game play. Singing blenders and Provides historical toasters teach kiddies and scientific info, how to make tacos Reinforces math skills, and pancakes. _ ^^ % Kami V ega and Wn Narayanan 14 USA WEEKEND • Sept. 27-29. 1996

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