Some games you just point and shoot, and trash talk the player you “killed.” In others, you point and pass, and trash talk the opponent on which you scored. All computer and video games are not so mindless though (apologies to all players of sport and war games, we understand they are very complex and you have an amazing level of talent to be as good as you are). Instead of rotting our brains as mother always warned, groups of games have existed throughout time (time = 1990 to present) for the purpose of massaging our gray matter and helping it mature. We look back at a few video games, past and present, that go beyond chaos and destruction:
If you were in grade school in the early 90’s, you know all about this old-school Apple classic. For those of you not in the know, the game is all about math skills. You control “Number Muncher” a frog-looking character that moves between squares containing different numbers. The goal was to “munch” the correct numbers, dictated by the theme of the level, such as, “multiples of 14,” all the while avoiding “Troggles,” evil creatures trying to end your learning. In the 90’s, any type of computer game was awesome, especially when you are 9, and playing “Munchers” was the one point in the school day where nerds held power over the bullies. Much like adulthood.
The moving puzzle game, Tetris was an early fave of NES owners. For our younger readers, Tetris is reverse puzzle, the goal being to organize different shaped pieces into large sections, which then disappear from the screen. Build inefficiently, and you are punished with a design to complex to break down, a lesson the American housing industry has been learning. Tetris was simple, but also engaging and forced you to be creative and think ahead in your puzzle construction. You can always spot a good Tetris player early on in life, based on whether they put the round peg through the circular hole or not.
Another staple of 90’s computer games was Myst. This is a thinking man’s game, if you can actually play long enough to get your mind mobilized (we often smashed our keyboards after 20 minutes of pulling levers with no effect). Originally released on Mac, Myst requires players to navigate their character, “The Stranger” around an odd world full of puzzles that, once completed, allow them to advance throughout the game. This game was massively popular, despite being mind-numbingly frustrating. Kinda like Miley Cyrus.
Nintendo DS combines game play with learning in Brain Age. Falling under the “Mental Training” genre (yeah, we didn’t know it existed either), this game was created specifically to build your head muscle. It is almost cheating to put it on this list, but hey, it is also a game and it can get competitive. If you are tired of being stomped by 9 year-olds in Modern Warfare II, challenge them to a series of puzzles in Brain Age. Users write answers with a stylus, so you can pretend you are working on your PDA during that boring conference. If you continue to lose to pre-teens, maybe classroom learning is required.
Age of Empires
This series of games allows players to live out the dream of all men, building an empire. This real time strategy (RTS) game, now three versions deep, allows users to venture into the New World, destroy what is there, and build back something greater, essentially the story of America, though portrayed in a a variety of countries and time periods. Strategy is key as one must be an efficient city planner and skilled general to taste success. Experts also like the fact that the game’s ties to history get kids thinking about and thus involved in actual history (the stuff in books). AOE, as it’s known, makes our list because it combines so many facets requiring thought, and it is SUPER fun with wicked sweet graphics in AOE III.
Here is an interesting chicken or the egg type question: Was Lara Croft made to be Angelina Jolie, or was Jolie bred to be Croft? We can’t decide either. In any case, the game that ushered many of us through puberty is still going strong. The Tomb Raider series is great because there is plenty of action combined with actual thought provoking game play. As the heroine Lara Croft, the gamer is constantly presented with puzzles that must be solved in order to move through maze like tombs. Sometimes, though, the solution is squeezing off a few rounds, which separates the game from other thinking types. The newest versions, of course, have wonderful graphics, making Lara appear all the more lovely.