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Computer Games

Culture | The five top PC computer games according to PC Data, for the week ending Feb. 19

Issue: "It's Bush vs. Gore," March 18, 2000
The Sims Electronic Arts
GIST
Players create simulated people and families, to place in a simulated neighborhood, to live simulated lives. Its creator (Will Wright, the man behind SimCity) says it's a dollhouse for adults. Players can either control their Sims' every move, or prepare them well, and watch them perform on their own.

WHAT IT REWARDS
Consideration of a Sim's needs. Without food, companionship, and a little structure in their lives, Sims suffer.

CAUTION
It's too easy to mistreat your Sims. Isn't that simulated sin? (See below.)

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Disney
GIST
Computer version of the omnipresent prime-time game show on ABC; this was the top seller at Christmas. It features plenty of full-motion video of Regis and comes complete with "Is that your final answer?" and "Lifelines."

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WHAT IT REWARDS
Knowledge of trivia (and like the show, it has lots of TV-related questions).

CAUTION
Every bit as annoying and dumbed-down as the show; and in a creepy compromise, you still get to "phone a friend" for help with a question-only, it's one of Regis's friends.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Hasbro Interactive
GIST
Another sim, this one a fine title about building rollercoasters and attracting park patrons

WHAT IT REWARDS
Business savvy. Players might begin thinking they're about to play a game about thrilling rides-but they discover, hours later, that they've been playing a business simulation and learning about design, management, and marketing. And having fun doing so.

CAUTION
The game is mostly about small details-keeping the grass mowed and paying attention to the nausea level of guests-so very young players will find it difficult.

Ages of Empire II: The Age of Kings Microsoft
GIST
A "real-time strategy" title that mixes chess-like forethought with history lessons

WHAT IT REWARDS
Planning, management, and a knowledge of medieval life. Players take the role of a military leader serving under William Wallace, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, or Saladin; they must manage resources, develop technology, train soldiers, and plan their conquests well. The game's historical accuracy is stunning-and compelling.

CAUTION
Preteens will find it too difficult. But for teens and adults, there's an excellent tutorial campaign, and other online help sites.

Nox Electronic Arts
GIST
A fantasy role-playing game, with both single and multi-player aspects

WHAT IT REWARDS
Dealing death on a large scale. Visually, it's a lot like Diablo and similar fantasy kill-the-monster-in-the-dungeon games, but it adds some elements of shooters such as Quake and Unreal. Players roam through the Nox world slaying things and looting the corpses. In the online and multiplayer modes, it's pure action: kill everything in sight, including monsters and other players.

CAUTION
It's a violent game, set in a fantasy world with magic and demons.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
For some players, directing the lives and loves of The Sims can provide hours of micro-managerial fun. But sooner or later it happens. It might begin with an innocent mistake-forgetting to buy a refrigerator, or letting a Sim miss work once too often. The Sims get hungry, cranky, desperate. They fight with each other, with their neighbors. Things get ugly fast-and players realize what's turning out to be the real appeal of the game. The Sims is the ultimate God-game, and there's no reason to be a benign deity. "Biff Kritzen has a pretty good life," boasts a reviewer in this month's Computer Gaming World magazine. "... He has free time to play chess, paint, and dance with the neighbor's wife. He's healthy, rested, well-fed and groomed. Biff owes it all to me." Even virtual power corrupts. Almost as soon as the game was released, websites appeared with lurid tales of abuse dished out to Sims. Players told of building homes with no plumbing and watching as their Sims hopped about desperately. They egged their simulated families into feuds with neighbors. They walled in wayward Sims and watched them go stir-crazy. (One created parents so bad that virtual child protective service workers came to take away the baby; the player says he tried to stop them by removing the doors, but couldn't make the changes in time.) The game will likely continue to be a bestseller, which is not a comforting thought, even to that CGW reviewer. "I'll keep playing," he writes, "in spite of that little voice in my head telling me what an absurdity it is to be putting so much time into improving a digital creature's life at the expense of my own. And the vaguely uncomfortable notion that I've been ensorcelled into spending time doing exactly the things I play games to avoid."

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