Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I've really come to hate those video games that are proliferating faster than nuclear warheads.

The first time I noticed one of them, I was on my way to grab a six-pack in a convenience store. "W-W-WA-WAH," it screeched as I walked by. "Holy cats, what was that?" I asked a fellow in a grimy smock behind the cash register. He only gestured obscenely at the machine, muttering something about buying a chicken ranch in Arizona and retiring 10 years earlier than he'd originally planned.

The next time I remember encountering video games was on a Sunday afternoon in Arlington. I was walking past an arcade full of them, and again it was the noise that got my attention. It sounded as if they were screening a battle scene from a George Lucas film, and I soon found out why. The crowd inside, entirely composed of children under 16 and off-duty military personnel, were playing machines with names like "Sky Raider," "Scramble" and "Spy Tactics." Most of the games had an extraterrestrial theme, and almost all were incredibly violent.

I figured what the heck, I've got some time to kill, so I bought some tokens. I waited until a child no higher than my navel finished playing "Sky Raider," and then I slid onto the stool in front of the terminal. The "pre-flight checklist" read like an F-16 user manual: "Knock out ground targets and enemy planes; press red start button to begin bombing run. Steer right-left to line up bomb sight . . . firing button is on right control handle." Five dollars, 10 Hail Marys and half an hour later I gave up. I am no sky raider. The kid who had been playing it before I did was standing behind me with a superior grin.

"You didn't hit a single city," he exulted. "Those are worth 450 points." I looked at the scoreboard below the teminal and found that the kid was right. Interestingly, from a civilian standpoint, each enemy plane destroyed was worth 800 points, 350 more than an entire city. I didn't hang around to watch him create his own private Armageddon.

I tried another game. It was even more difficult, and required the development of elaborate strategies. The instructions were as follows: "Once an enemy ship has released a bomb, it must be destroyed quickly, or it will continue dropping bombs at an increasing rate. Protect your bases against falling bombs by engaging the energy barrier. Each base has one defensive missile for use as a last resort to explode incoming bombs."

After I'd lost a pocketful of tokens on this and other sanguinary games in a matter of minutes, a Marine who looked a little sorry for me explained -- in a slow, patronizing way so I might follow his words -- that only those people who appreciate the finer points of offense can play a good game of defense. He indicated a game I might enjoy, considering my lack of savvy, called "The End." The rules are simple. You shoot aliens by pressing a firing button. Not all the aliens are harmless targets, though. Some carry bricks, and it counts double if you blast them. I couldn't help myself. I had to ask. "I have a laser and the alien has a brick? That's giving him a sporting chance?"

The Marine watched me while I was being bricked in for a few moments without saying anything, then sauntered off, shaking his head. I left the arcade soon after, realizing I have neither the sadistic inclination nor the hunter's reflexes necessary to achieve even the lowest level of modern arcade expertise.

I have since seen children scavenge in the coin-return boxes of video games set up in airports, Amtrak stations, restaurants and department stores w world is in a horrible place / Scientific Industry devours the human race."

Children are becoming amazingly adept at eliminating competitors, whether human or alien, with a mere flick of the wrist while sitting comfortably behind humming video terminals.

That's no fun. That's what a lot of people would call on-the-job training.