GIVE THE GAMEBOYS BACK TO YOUR KIDS. TAKE MYST Off your hard drive. It’s time to play some real games. Designed for adults, these are simulations of real-life situations that you can play for hours on end. And you can play them with others–both on- and offline. If you get really good at them, you can use such entertainment to simulate business problems. Solve them in the simulator and you are set for the real thing.
If you have any doubts about the value of simulation games, go on America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, or the Internet and find the Games forum. There, you will find people who are regular players of President ’96 and Virtual Airlines. You can actually talk through the simulations and even create your own or have one created for you.
Doom, the granddaddy of downloaded action games, has a cult following that includes thousands of programmers. Basic Doom is an animated game in which you get simulated weapons and a clock. You have to outrun the most gruesome pack of marauders under heaven. It’s all about opening doors and finding your way in the dark.
Now, the big question–how on earth could this possibly be constructive for a small-business owner? Well, the game can be quite therapeutic under the right circumstances, much the way punching a heavy bag can be. Say, for instance, you just finished months of effort creating a new logo and motto, only to find they have just been copyrighted the day before by a competitor. You’re now fuming, with the feeling that you will crush the next person who even says hello. Before inflicting harm on anyone, sit down at your desk and mow down hordes of cyber-demons. After being immersed in an artificial world where you have the freedom to indulge your aggressions, your mood will calm to at least a civil state, allowing you to cope with the rest of the day rationally. If you want to get this game, it is available as shareware (a limited-functionality version of the full game) free over the Internet through about three-dozen sights (ftp.csusm.edu/pub) and the HOC site on AOL. Just use any Web browser search engine to find it–or simply go to a computer store and get the $5 demo. The full-blown program, currently at version 3, sells for roughly $40.
Some games were built for business simulation. Maxis Software, for instance, makes a series of Sim games. Try SimCity and learn how to build and market a new city. How? To build your city, you must zone land as industrial, residential, or commercial and then protect these zones with police, hospitals, and so forth. You start off with a budget but it is up to you to decide how to spend the money and keep the city profitable (take a look at your business plan for a refresher course). Here is your chance to play out all kinds of what-if scenarios: What if I moved my office from the mini-mall on Fifth Street to the low-rent district across from the university?
While you design a working model of a city that keeps its aesthetic value, your subconscious may be applying some of those ideas to whatever job you’re trying to accomplish work-wise. And so through the simple act of playing a game, you’ve jump-started your creative juices and given yourself a quick refresher course in, say, budgeting. There are two versions available: SimCity Classic and SimCity 2000; the latter has more detail and playing options. There are some great clones available on the Internet for free, but they aren’t as sophisticated as the commercial versions. To find the clones, try searching the Web for such keywords as sim city or sim game.
Maxis also has another title called SimTower. The object of this game is to build a functional skyscraper, complete with elevator scheduling, lobby decor and functionality, restaurants, businesses, and tenants. Again, think about having to deal with the responsibilities of maintaining a skyscraper and how you can apply what you’re doing while having fun to what you face every day in running your own business. And if you want to get even more specific, there are SimIsle, SimFarm, SimAnt, and other versions.
Another title that will tickle the entrepreneur in you is CivNet (Spectrum HoloByte). This game is the newest version of Civilization. The object here is to build your own civilization from the ground up, survive next to other civilizations without being taken over (sound anything like your competition?), and finally conquer the world (own your market!). The detail is fairly good, without becoming too complex, and all aspects involved in shaping communities are included. You must make decisions on what kinds of objects and technology to develop, what land to populate, and so forth.
One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that after you finish playing the computer and have mastered many different strategies, you can go online and play against other opponents via the Internet. And if you have a virtual corporation, for instance, you can play with your partners (whether they’re across town or in another state) so that you all develop similar skills. It may even turn into an impromptu brainstorming session.
Now, let’s say you’re on an airplane going to meet a distant client. Have Broderbund’s Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on your laptop and you can discover places of interest in the city you’re going to. Try to catch the elusive spy and get a geography lesson at the same time. If your client is an avid golfer, brush up on your putting with Access Software’s Links Championship Course. Learn how to get out of sandtraps, how not to hit trees, and the finer nuances of courses around the world.
For brushing up on the cutthroat activities of the corporate world, there’s Microforum’s Virtual Corporation. This voicecontrolled CD-ROM lets you rise to the top of a make-believe corporate ladder by forming strategic alliances throughout the network, perhaps showing you where your own business is lacking and letting you map out a virtual corporation of your own.
As you find yourself surfing the Net, you’ll see literally thousands of games available for free–including poker, blackjack, and hearts. These types of games may not sound particularly business-oriented, but sometimes all it takes is a five-minute break to relieve the stress that mounts in a day. Be careful when downloading, however, because many of the games don’t work as promised and could have a virus. Also, don’t expect to find a game in the same place you found it before.
If you like chess, check out some of the games online. These sites let you play interactive games online. Other game servers to surf include http://www.lanmax. com/games.html, and http://www.shopping. com/wwm7.html. You can also try using a search engine such as Alta Vista (http:// www.altavista.digital.com), which seems to have the latest game information around. Try to be specific when using keywords; keying in games is too broad, so try to narrow your search to chess games or action games to get better results.
Slowly, business owners are starting to realize that computer games are not just for kids. Whether to spur creativity, refresh budgetary knowledge, deal with time management, or just to take a well-deserved break, games do belong in the workplace– so long as they don’t become the only thing you do in your office.