As a single woman in my 30s, I'm naturally terrified of children. I mean, what do I do with them? How do I get them to do what I say? Will they even like me? To help answer these questions and that other great mystery of postmodern life--why kids are so mesmerized by video games--I arranged a little experiment. First I finagled four of the new Game Boy Advance handhelds ($100 successors to Game Boy Color with a larger screen, faster processor and better colors and sound) that Nintendo will release in the U.S. on June 11. Next I ordered a bunch of new games designed for the Advance. Then I loaded my backpack full of goodies and set out to meet the kids.
First up were three first-graders. Unfortunately, their favorite game is Pokemon, and there won't be an Advance version until sometime next year. Duh. I did, however, manage to tempt them with Activision's Pinobee, in which kids play a flight-challenged bumblebee that frolics through a pretty forest collecting flowers, meeting fairies and dodging funny-looking bad guys. "I'm good at this!" yelled Lucas. The seven-year-olds were less impressed with Nintendo's racer, F-Zero. "This game is impossible," said Jonathan in disgust.
I had tried a little F-Zero myself before I met the boys, so I was more than a bit relieved that I was not the only one who kept crashing and burning. On the basis of Lucas' big endorsement, however, I gave Pinobee a shot when I got home that night. I was pretty good at it too. It took me hours to teach my bee to fly, and it gave me great pleasure when eventually I succeeded.
Next I psyched myself up to charm a group of five bigger kids, ages 8 to 13, including one boy who could barely look at me. Uh-oh. What's more, the badly illuminated room we were sitting in underscored Advance's biggest flaw: the screen is not lighted. Sure, you can buy an external light (Nyko's Worm Light is $10), but you shouldn't have to. Once we turned up the lights, Jokim volunteered that with Advance, "you move quicker and you can jump higher. It looks like a TV." Rea fell for Ubi Soft's Rayman, which is similar to Pinobee. "It's hot!" she said. "It looks like the sky is moving."
Finally, I tested Advance's multiplayer features, which let you link as many as four players at once, by encouraging three brothers, ages 8 to 10, to duke it out. "I like the bigger screen because you can see where you're going," said the oldest, Victor. Kyle especially liked Atlus' Super Dodge Ball Advance. "When you hit the ball, it can go high." But Andre had some issues with Bam! Entertainment's Fire Pro Wrestling. "You can't grapple," he complained, "and the person I'm playing against always wins."
I can definitely relate. I hate losing too. And it occurred to me that maybe kids aren't such scary aliens after all. And maybe, just maybe, this Game Boy craze isn't so dumb. In Konami's Krazy Racers, you can race in space or on the beach. You can drop off a cloud and drive in a lake. It's silly and fun and makes the impossible possible--nothing scary about it.