The digital DMZ: managing the PC turf wars. (family interaction related to computer games) (Column)
by Carol Ellison
If you thought family turf wars over technology ended with the introduction of cheap TVs and call waiting, think again. The home computer opens a whole new battleground on the home front.
A burgeoning market in children's games has eliminated the age limit in computing. Once again, family members are in contention for the house-hold's most entertaining electronic device--the PC. And multimedia promises to advance the trend and push the minimum age for computing downward, making the computer as accessible and as much fun as Saturday morning TV.
If, as adults and parents, we hope to continue to control this territory, we'll have to find ways to explore it with the kids. In our book, Parents, Kids and Computers: An Activity Guide for Family Fun and Learning, Robin Raskin and I look at ways to turn the home PC into a family entertainment center. Harmony at the keyboard is not only possible, but also pleasurable. And software for children, once seen as simplistic, demands programming as sophisticated that found in many ad games--and often more so.
The multimedia animated storybooks Mixed-Up Mother Goose from Sierra On-Line and Just Grandma and Me from Broderbund (based on an endearing children's story by Mercer Mayer and, at the time of this writing, available only for the Macintosh) bring music, voice, and hi-res animated video to the computer. As children's programs, they delight with their animation and respect for detail in classic nursery rhymes and children's stories. But these are no more just for kids than the wonders in Walt Disney's Fantasia.
Unlike the kids of our own generation, whose participation in fairy tales rarely progressed beyond running their Kool-Aid-stained fingers across the page of a Golden book, our own kids can actively participate in the fantasy. They can explore castles and enchanted lands to help Little Miss Muffet unite her curds and whey in Mixed-Up Mother Goose or soar skyward toward adventure while grasping the handle of a beach umbrella on a windy day in Just Grandma and Me.
Plummeting prices have made an interactive combination of computer, sound, animation, high-resolution graphics, and CD-ROM practical for the home. But multimedia is still a pricey proposition. Fortunately, a few vendors have found ways of delivering multimedialike products on floppy disks that are easy to install on a hard drive and run on a less advanced system.
Knowledge Adventure, from the company of the same name, may be the most innovative such product to appear on the market this year. This $79.95 floppy disk-based multimedia reference room makes research more fun than negotiating twisty little passages in Colossal Cave. It takes you on a hypertext sound-and-graphics tour of world history and does it in just 320K of RAM, 6MB of hard disk space, and EGA graphics. It's ideal for the budget-conscious home user who's not yet ready to upgrade. Knowledge Adventure uses the same approach in its two newer releases: Sports Adventure and Isaac Asimov's Science Adventure. The games aren't perfect. The entire history of Western civilization can't be squeezed into 6MB. But filling in the gaps can make for its own family adventure.
In fact, the beauty of the new crop of kids' games is that they offer opportunities for family interaction.
And alongside traditional games, multimedia effects are showing up in creativity products. With Broderbund's Kid-Pix or Davidson's KidWorks, two hot new drawing programs for kids of all ages, it's possible to animate onscreen drawings and add sound and speech for cartoonlike effects or produce richly illustrated paper posters.
Programs like these cut across generations by presenting kids and parents with group play and the opportunity to go on quests away from the keyboard for learning and fun. They may never replace Disneyland. But they sure beat Super Mario. So why fight about it? Share the mouse.
Carol Ellison is coauthor of the book Parents, Kids and Computers: An Activity Guide for Family Fun and Learning (Random House, fall 1992).