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Video Games - Harmless Entertainment or Social Menace?

There were a number of "hidden-object" games on the market, some incorporating the now-familiar "match-three" element. Prior experience with these puzzles gave me something of an advantage and I did enjoy success of sorts. The hidden-object part, though, became boring. Looking for items and shapes secreted within a scene was a clever innovation, but reminded me of those spot-the-difference drawings you get in newspapers - when you've done one, you've done them all.

There is no doubt in my mind that these puzzle-type games can be both entertaining and beneficial, especially for older players who are still far from decomposition, but whose brains are becoming lethargic through the conditioning of routine and practicalities of day-to-day living. Hand-eye co-ordination and timing improve, also awareness. Focus is one of the major skills which gets a dust-off, along with the planning of strategies, a talent that can fall into disuse once a person's lifestyle reaches a comfortably predictable stage. I'm not sure if playing video games helps stave off the onset of illnesses like Alzheimer's and Dementia, but it certainly keeps the thought process active. As for encouraging bad habits, one downside could be the number of hours glued to the screen, a practice not recommended for medical reasons. It can have a detrimental effect on relationships too, if partners and families are ignored in favour of one last try to beat the game. As there is no aggressive element involved, I can see little justification for declaring this type of pre-occupation an incitement to violence and moral turpitude.

Unsure where I should go from here, I took advice from my son who is a video-game developer and ought to have known what I might be able to handle. He claimed the more sophisticated first-person games were better played with a hand-held controller, which I didn't have. There were still some, he said, that I could play using the mouse, plus a certain amount of keyboard work, and he proceeded to give me a plastic shopping bag full of old games that I could hone my inadequate skills on. He recommended I try "Harry Potter" first, it being relatively simple and something an old codger might be able to get his head round. Once home, I swallowed back my trepidation and loaded the DVD, or thought I had. The initial cinematics provided an animated introduction to a world of magic and wizardry. I watched and waited, my trusty mouse gripped tightly in my right hand, and I listened. Perhaps my mind was elsewhere, I don't know, but my memory seemed to retain nothing of what I had seen or heard, so when I was eventually switched to an interactive scene, I had no clue what I was supposed to do. Not that it mattered - the screen froze and I had to shut down. Some minutes and a DVD scratch-repair later, I gave it a second go.

It wasn't quite as bewildering as I had imagined, and I was comforted to be reunited with digital facsimiles of characters I'd seen in the movies. I was further encouraged by winning an introductory battle with the Dementors - I later discovered that there was no glory in this because the result was fixed! Following this "toy" conflict, I found myself within the confines of Hogwarts and it soon became clear that a certain amount of prior experience was a definite advantage. Not having any in the role-playing arena, I was incompetent to say the least. Moving my character, Harry Potter, through a bewildering maze of corridors and stairways wasn't too difficult, as long as I followed the red footprints which magically appeared ahead of me. Without them, I would have been hopelessly lost. There was even a training session, instructions on casting spells with the wand by using the mouse. I thought I'd mastered this most-important skill but, like the earlier defeat of the Dementors, the outcome of the practice was rigged too. In ignorance of this minor deception, I continued on in the belief that I was well prepared for my first quest. It wasn't until I was in the library trying to levitate a book from the top shelf that my self-confidence bottomed out. My wand refused to behave the way it had in the training session. I did manage to blow a few readers off their chairs, but the book stayed put. Even as a student wizard, I was a miserable failure. Thus, for the sake of sanity, I decided to quit magic school for a more down-to-earth apprenticeship.

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