Galactica: The Battle for Saturn
It all came back. Pete, Joe and I crouched in the family basement under the white, hole-punched ceiling boards, our faces inches from the TV with eyelids on hold. That morning the scheduling nightmare for any parent, known as March break, had brought the family to the Royal Ontario Museum. While fiddling with the brightly colored tin ROM badges (a highlight with any ROM visit) Dad managed to horde several complimentary ROM editions of the Toronto Star at the entrance. Inside were ballots for a special museum draw. Somewhere between the incased mummy and the T-Rex fossils names were scrawled. As family myth goes Dad was involved in a last minute dash in order to get our fist full of ballots in before the 2:00 o’clock deadline. Upon his return, as though on cue, my name got called over the PA. Next thing I know 7 year old me is being hoisted to the museum security counter to work though a skill testing question. Aided by a collection of fingers and the ROM employee mouthing the number 20 I breezed through a grade 8 worthy math question. Thanks to this nascent mathematical genius returning home, on “the better way”, with us was a giant box. The contents: a Commadore 64.
That night, a keyboard thicker than a Websters dictionary was shuttled from lap to lap in the Shouldice household. Sticking out of it, the one and only game it came with: Jupiter Lander. Countless hours were spent attempting to land a lunar ship on what appeared to be a mountain with the top sliced off. A task that required delicate use of the I, J, K, M keys to ensure a safe landing. The moving squares mesmerized us.
Twenty plus years later I watched as a group of kids shared that same mesmerized look. Eyes glazed all jockeying for a turn. This time they didn’t need to know order of operations or stuff any ballot boxes. The Fujitech Super 5 computer which has a sticker that tells me it is “Equipped for 2000” was a donation from a local drug store. In place of moon landings were the letters J and F scrolling across the screen at a dead turtles pace. The “game” Type Master blew their minds. Chilfuya in particular was thrilled when he could begin using his middle fingers when D and K were added to the mix. The results graph which displayed his 22% accuracy made the effort all the more worthwhile.
National Geographic tells me the number of personal computers in Sub Saharan Africa is 12 per thousand people in 2003. Although Kabwe with a population of 250, 000 would probably bring the average down, it is clear that computer use is growing substantially. In Kabwe alone there are three web cafes including one in a BP gas station. In an unofficial survey conducted by my wandering eyes the most frequent urls are e-mail sites followed closely by the Manchester United home page and TV evangelist websites. Which leads me to wonder how a town where probably 50% of the population don’t have access to running water or electricity can possibly fill internet cafes sufficiently to merit 3 of them, and populate them frequently enough to cause me to queue just to access them.
Over the weeks our new computer at Sables slowly revealed its true gems. The biggest discovery has been a hidden folder full of second rate games: PC Man, not to be confused with PAC Man, Galactica: The Battle for Saturn, as well as a Formula One Racing game sampler. Together they have eliminated any notion of a Sables kid being able to type 8 words per minute. What one might call a flaw in programming has made Galactica one of the most popular games with the keyboard-challenged in the group. The oversight allows you to tuck your ship in the corner of the screen and fire your missiles avoiding the enemies onslaught guaranteeing winning each level.
In an effort to go beyond games that require a woodpecker type motion with your index finger we have started working with programs that involve a mouse. Works of art are being created at a rapid pace thanks to the paint program. The fill option nearly brought down the house. I’m usually summoned after 20 minutes of intense color selection to admire their creation. Deciphering these pictures requires an imagination one usually reserves for clouds. I find myself using the kindergarten teacher line, “Tell me about your picture” to avoid calling a pink with maroon striped person a house.
Not surprisingly the staff have taking a liking to the recent advance in technology. Kebby under the guise of “helping” will usually fit in a couple of rounds of Galactica each day. The odd time I’ll give a quick run through of the computers features. During one of these lessons Sestina wanted to know what the card icon on the desktop meant. Midway through explaining solitaire I froze in fear with visions of 1000s of wasted hours. Muttering something about boring I discarded it and the equally menacing Free Cell permanently.
Even though the screen saver still prompts shouts of “it’s all gone black” and the double click of the mouse draws out the visible tongue of concentration, I do believe Kabwe is becoming quite a computer literate town. I’m glad to be doing my part, though I’ve had trouble getting the exact dates of the next Galactica tournament.