- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/ gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.
Secrets of the Mind (Montparnasse Multimedia, $29.95) will engage, amuse, enrich and entertain anyone fascinated by the most complicated part of his nervous system.
An absolute must-have for the thinking person's library, the two-disk program features the lectures of 11 world-renowned and pioneering professors and scientists as they guide users through the mysteries of the inner, cranial universe.
Dignitaries giving computer users a piece of their mind include such notables as Daniel Schacter, an author and chairman of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University; Jean-Pierre Changeux, author of "The Neuronal Man" and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Neurology at the Institut Pasteur in France; and Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winner for economics and professor of computer science and psychology of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The program quickly opens to a map of the brain offering five sections of exploration "The Thinking Machine," "Human Intelligence," "Learning and Memory," "Brain Building" and "Consciousness and Perception." Within each section are subsections that explore different aspects of the overall topic.
Throughout the program, computer users will find 20 fully multimedia talks, linked by a teaching path; 15 problem-solving experiments; seven round-table discussions contained within five hours of video; and animation presentations totaling more than 220 concepts and ideas.
For example, "Human Intelligence" alone will provide hours of thought-provoking and fascinating data. This section's choice of topics encompasses "Man Against Machine," "The Rules of Thought," "Problem Solvers" and "Emotional Intelligence," which is where I began my discoveries.
Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, head of psychiatry at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh, is the virtual host of the discussion that begins with the segment "In Search of Emotions."
Dr. Servan-Schreiber begins by explaining that the focus of his research is to understand the regions of the brain that are responsible for the experience of emotion in humans and the abnormal emotional experiences seen in some psychiatric patients.
The next part of his talk features a three-dimensional scan of a brain exhibiting a reaction to emotion. This explains how a "raw emotional experience" can be induced with a drug called procaine.
As the amount of information being given increases, barometer icons appear at the bottom of the page offering additional explanations of words and concepts. With one click on procaine, I learned it is more commonly know by its trademark Novocaine.
Returning within "Emotional Intelligence," Dr. Servan-Schreiber shows how humans share a number of emotional and visceral experiences with mammals and even reptiles.
One last feature to the section allows users to see and hear the round-table discussion, "Are There Different Kinds of Intelligence?" with Mr. Changeux, Mr. Schacter and Dr. Servan-Schreiber.
Yes, this program plays heavily on detail and scientific investigation but occasional games exist, labeled experiments, to stimulate the user. Towers of Hanoi, found under the "Man Against Machine" section, challenges users to place an ever-increasing number of discs from one of three towers to another, never putting a larger disc on top of a smaller while completing the task in a set number of moves.
A professor then explains: This experiment demonstrates how humans work within a mental space using means and analysis to solve a problem.
Secrets of the Mind will give users an exhausted noggin with its exceptional educational opportunities and interesting commentaries.
Secrets of the Mind (Montparnasse Multimedia, $29.95). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

Mickey Mouse Kindergarten (Disney Interactive, $19.99) program presents 4- to 6-year-olds with a group of familiar cartoon friends ready to make problem-solving fun.
In all, nine activities with 40 skill sets increase in difficulty as a child's abilities develop.
Everyone's favorite rodent has taken on the role of newspaper reporter to search Main Street for a story.
From the opening navigation screen, children begin to explore a busy city street where they can listen to a little hot jazz at the club or set their digital wristwatch to the town tower clock.
A stop at Donald's Dance Club lets youngsters do some counting, and an arcade features more mathematics as players shoot alien robots.
My favorite, Hide and Seek, features Chief O'Hara on the tail of the hat-stealing weasel who is hiding behind objects in the alley.
Children will learn to follow directions as clues as to the weasel's whereabouts are broadcast over police radio.
Other games, such as Sleepwalkin' Goofy, teach the ABCs, letter identification, word building and recognition.
The program offers standard fare in the educational CD-ROM arena but succeeds through silly music, beautiful imagery and that always present Disney style.
Mickey Mouse Kindergarten (Disney Interactive, $19.99). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.
ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns are always welcome. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

Double delight

Here are two multimedia entertainment items for children 5 and older:
m Rock Raiders, by Lego Media (for PlayStation, $19.99) Our famous "interlocking blocks" friends have once again entered the console gaming market with a third-person challenge featuring a group of crusty mining veterans. After the geological survey ship LMS Explorer becomes stranded on an uncharted planet, players take control of Axel, Bandit, Jet, Docs or Sparks and must traverse hostile landscapes in hopes of finding lost team members and securing valuable ore to recharge the ship.
Does this sound like a Bruce Willis movie or what? Through 18 missions, they will discover a variety of tools and buildable vehicles such as the Mobile Laser Cutter to accomplish tasks. Rock Raiders offers the perfect multimedia environment. After children get tired of the game, they can re-create adventures using actual Lego sets that correspond to the action.
Pro Pinball: Big Race USA, by Take-Two Interactive (for PlayStation, $9.99) Up to four players can travel across 16 U.S. cities and challenge some crazy vehicles while avoiding police cars to rack up points. Although this sounds like a driving game, guiding a silver orb through blinking obstacles is really the goal.
The Pro Pinball table features 44 areas of action, ranging from the magnocharger to speedway ramps to classic spinners. The table, ball and four flippers act and react like the real things, and players can even nudge the table (watch out for a tilt) or inspect the slanted surface close up.
To completely experience the game, I suggest using a big-screen television, which almost reflects actual arcade dimensions. Good luck convincing the bread earners to drop $2,000 to view an amazing $10 game, but one can always dream.

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