I have a confession to make. Whenever I can, I sneak past my wife's suspicious glare, sidle nonchalantly down the stairs to the basement and, with the guilt rising in my throat, turn on the personal computer and play a furious game of Snack Attack.
I'm probably not alone. Recent surveys reveal that about 50 percent of all personal computer time is consumed by playing games. Word processing, that workplace breakthrough that made the latest electric typewriter just another has-been, apparently consumes only one out of every five minutes of computer time, while home uses, such as menu planning, check balancing, etc., barely make a statistical impression: maybe one minute out of every 20 is devoted to such pursuits.
Actually, it's probably a lot worse--or better, if you happen to own stock in a game software company--because I suspect most of those surveyed were too embarrassed to admit just how much time they spent shooting down galactic invaders or chasing blips from one corner of a video monitor to another.
I'm also sure the miscreants are not just those who have computers in their homes. I recently saw an ad touting a game written for the office-bound executive to play on his or her office personal computer.
So, since I've been caught red-handed--there's nothing worse than feeling your spouse's eyes bore a hole right in the middle of your back as you fight your way through an electronic maze--you might as well come on down and get a glimpse of the games our family plays most often. Well, three out of five family members play, to be precise.
My wife refuses to have anything to do with them, and the baby is forbidden to touch the keyboard.
Snack Attack is probably No. 1 (we own an Apple II Plus). For those of you familiar with the arcades, it's a Pac Man clone. The idea is to gobble up as many jellybeans as possible before you are gobbled up in turn by the gremlins chasing you. The intensity in my son's eyes as he jerks the joystick back and forth is something to behold.
I suspect I may be even more impressive.
Another favorite is Castle Wolfenstein. It's of a different genre. Here your challenge, as an allied prisoner of war in a German castle, is to escape with the plans for a new offensive past ever vigilant guards.
Basically, you maneuver your man through a maze of castle rooms, rummaging through chests in which you may find anything from hand grenades to sauerkraut. Always present is the fear that, at any moment, you will be discovered.
We finally lent the game to someone else to save our sanity.
Recently, however, I discovered what may be the most fiendish mindtwister of all: Prisoner2. Based on the popular late 1960's movie series The Prisoner, it is set up so that nothing is to be taken for granted. As the game begins, you are given a secret code, which the computer will then try to browbeat out of you.
As you try to escape, everything you thought you could take for granted turns out to be false. On top of that, the computer intentionally misleads you at every turn. The first time my son played, he finally caved in, giving the computer the number.
The computer snickered.
Today, what with the cost of computer chips possessing increased memory continuing to drop, personal computer companies are talking about a new generation of home machines that will offer a combination of computer graphics and interactivity that will make arcade games pale.
I wonder then what the surveys will show.