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A minor interest of mine (it doesn’t yet rise to the level of hobby) is strategy and simulation games for the computer. I have always been fascinated by things like trains and airplanes and I had a model railroad and dreamed of learning to fly. As an historian, I have studied battles and contests between nations and naturally engage in a bit of “what if.” Before desktop computers I played war games on table tops and even played by mail where we used stock indices to calculate the rolls of dice. Those games took months and years. I had the Battle of Gettysburg set up with dozens of counters (the little cardboard pieces that represent units) in precise locations depicting the first day. Then a little girl who visited us decided she would mix it all up. That was the last play-by-mail game I tried. (The little girl is in grad school now I think.)

Then personal computers came along. I watched how microprocessers compressed the time and effort needed to execute moves and the computer watched that you obeyed the rules. You could even play the computer. This last feature eliminated the need to deal with boys and grown men with more imagination than social maturity.

I got a copy of Flight Simulator when it was black and white and played from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk (which was really floppy) using the number keys in lieu of a joystick. As the microprocessers grew in power so the games grew in beauty and sophistication. Flight Simulator became full color and offered a variety of aircraft over varied geographies. When Train Simulator came along I had to have a copy of that. I even got a little game that recreated toy Lionel trains in a train set.

The simulation games are another animal. With Civilization II and III I occupied wildernesses, planned and built cities and civilizations, and constructed empires. The same thing with the Age of Empire series. The Civilization games are particularly good way to consume an entire Saturday. I had to choose between games and several editions of Age of Empires went in a yard sale.

In Railroad Tycoon I didn’t so much operate trains as built and ran entire railroads complete with finances and stock manipulations. I spanned the North American continent and exploited China. I acquired Roller Coaster Tycoon and Sim City. But I also have a life to pursue, so these will have to wait until my life is nothing but free time.

My friend Steve introduced me to Rome, a very realistic (without the smells) recreation of the rise of the Roman Empire that cannot be played in one day. So you save the game and come back to it until some other faction obliterates you.

My latest acquisition is a sequel to Rome. Empire: Total War takes me into the struggles of the 18th Century where England, France, and Spain battle over control of the world. It has both land scenarios – lines of soldiers hammering away with muskets and bayonets – and sea scenarios. I am a sucker for the sea battles since I was an early devotee to the writings of C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower) and Patrick O’Brian (Jack Aubrey). The ships really sail.

All these games have an online and network capability. Online is where you find someone on the Internet, usually a fourteen-year-old boy, to kick your butt. Network is computers in the same house or office. I haven’t tried either since I would be sad to be beaten and insulted by some teenager in Finland.

Here’s hoping that computer gaming doesn’t prevent me from blogging.

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