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Playing on a screen near you: real life

(ran PAS edition)

Okay, I confess. I've been an avid fan of computer simulation programs for years.

I've built many metropoli with Sim City 2000. Created sprawling iron empires with Railroad Tycoon. Fought the Civil War in Sid Meier's Gettysburg.

Heck, back in the old days when I had an Apple IIE with a whopping 48K of random access memory, I programed my own nuclear reactor simulator in BASIC from instructions in a magazine.

But lately, it seems, simulations are going too far.

The floodgates really opened with golf.

Not the most exciting game to watch or play, it drew instant popularity on home computers.

Be Arnold Palmer without investing a mint in clubs, polo shirts and greens fees, and without necessarily having any real talent for the game.

That sound you hear? My eyes glazing over.

Then came trophy bass fishing.

Really.

Simulate sitting in a boat for hours on end without getting a bite.

Pretend to feel the tug on the line when something finally takes the bait.

Emulate the pride of returning home with an impressive catch of piscine pixels.

All without leaving a cushy chair in front of a computer screen.

I assumed that signaled rock bottom for the simulator market, but I was, oh, so wrong.

The other day, I visited the computer store, and as I explored equally pointless distractions that do interest me, I discovered what might be two more indications that the Apocalypse is nigh: deer- and turkey-hunting simulators.

Now, the knee-jerk animal and gun control activist in me immediately sees the benefit of only killing fake animals with fake weapons.

But the pragmatic side's jaw drops and wonders: What is the point?

If I bought it, I would at least feel obliged to build an elevated hunting blind in the living room _ despite the almost certain objections of my wife.

Then I found an add-on program for the deer hunting software _ more hunting grounds, more weapons!

Say, why not make it more challenging in future add-ons? Give the deer antler-mounted missile launchers and nitrous oxide boosters.

I've always considered computer games a means of escaping _ not emulating _ reality.

If this trend continues, perhaps we can expect simulations for sitting in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, taking calls from telephone solicitors, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn.

Might be nice to have a simulator for raising children, with all the pitfalls that can entail. Just a little too practical, I suspect.

While we're at it, why not a work-simulation program?

Now, that one I might buy!

I could sit at home, switch on the computer and pretend to put a community newspaper out, week after week.

A relatively fearless colleague noted rather sarcastically, and at great personal peril: "Don't you do that anyway?"

Laugh now. Ever simulate unemployment?

Wes Platt is the Times central Pasco bureau chief. He can be reached at 226-3454. Send e-mail to plattsptimes.com. Send letters c/o North of Tampa, 24038 State Road 54, Lutz, 33549. Send faxes to 226-3455.

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