Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

I'm a Computer Game Addict!

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

I have taken a (short) break from computer game hell to tell you what it's like. It's somewhere between cool and frightening.

A friend of mine gave me a computer game the other day - kind of like a video game you play on the computer. And I've been sucked into its magic like Brer' Rabbit and the Tar Baby! I worked with it (it doesn't sound so bad when you say "worked with it," but it's really "played with it") about 12 hours this past weekend.

I am hooked.

Now before you go getting all judgmental on me, I need to remind you that I'm on vacation. And also that it's not a violent game. I'm not shooting folks down - not even aliens. And thirdly, I can stop any time I want to (I think).

But boy, is it addictive!

It's called "RollerCoaster Tycoon," (no, I'm not advertising or advocating it) and the idea is to build an amusement park that people will like. See, you start out in March borrowing money from the bank to build roller coasters and ferris wheels and such; you construct paths and build refreshment booths and rest rooms, hire mechanics and groundskeepers - the whole thing. You can charge anything you want for admission to the park, for any ride, any refreshment - or even for bathroom privileges (a sleazy practice, which I never do. All of MY bathrooms are free!)

Obviously, how much you charge for stuff determines how much money you make as well as how many people turn into paying customers. You're supposed to keep the customers happy with information booths and moderately-priced (but not wimpy) rides.

As the year progresses from March to October (there's a little calendar in the corner, ticking off the days), the size of the crowds varies. Temperature and weather are also factors (information kiosks also sell umbrellas at a price you designate). A couple of times a year, there's a torrential storm. Umbrella sales go up, but park attendance goes down.

Hiring staff costs money, but if your customers think the place is messy, revenue will go down. So you have to hire more groundskeepers to empty trash and sweep the paths. And when rides break, you've got to send a mechanic over there to fix them - quickly.

At any given time, you can see how many people are in the park, on any particular ride, or eating a hamburger. You can also get statistics for how busy your restrooms are (One of mine had 335 customers per hour. Another one - further off the beaten path - averaged only 12 per hour).

You can get immediate customer reactions to rides and prices (my customers thought that $35 was a good deal for tickets to the park!)

When the end of the season rolls around, you get a report that combines money, customer satisfaction, and attendance. If you've kept your customers happy, had good attendance figures, and made some money, you've been successful.

Like I said, I've been in this "virtual amusement park" for most of the weekend, building up and tearing down rides, checking on customers, raising and lowering prices, and even starting an advertising campaign. It's like potato chips or salted peanuts or heroin - once you start - Hoo Boy!

One of the things I'm in awe of is the complexity of this little game. It's said that the power in our home personal computers these days is greater than that used to send early space crafts to the moon. No kidding. And with all the complicated formulas that have to be a part of this "simple" amusement park program, the sheer mathematical power of what I'm "playing" with is amazing to me. It also makes the results of decisions instantaneous and easy to evaluate - and therefore more interesting.

The other thing that has taken me a little by surprise is the addictive nature of this. I mean, I guess I have an addictive personality to begin with (as my smoking habit might suggest), but I never thought I'd be so entranced by a silly computer game! I've heard of those who spend hours in front of their computers, playing games either online with others or by themselves, of course, but I never thought I'd be one of them (even for a weekend).

It's been fun and mostly harmless (as long as you're on vacation or it's the weekend). But it seems like it could get out-of-hand awfully easily.

Not with me, of course. I'd never get hooked.