The Great and Powerful

The Great and Powerful
A God Among Insects

John Carr | 21 Oct 2008 12:49
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I count myself among the kids who enjoyed playing with ants. I rarely opted for the weapon of mass ant destruction that is the magnifying glass, though I'd be lying if I said I never did anything so cruel to the little six-legged commuters. Most of the time I just used sticks and leaves to transport or redirect the ants, or made a trail with my Kool-Aid to see how far they'd follow it. But sometimes I'd pour out a little extra to see how they responded to flash flood conditions and, as I recall, on at least one occasion my dad's lighter entered the equation.


There were also many times when I would find a lone ant and just watch it, try to follow its seemingly random path for as long as I could, and try to imagine what was going through its mind. I'd wonder how close to it I'd need to be before it realized I was there. I'd put my finger down and watch as the ant treated it like any other obstacle - sometimes it went around, sometimes it climbed right over - and contemplated whether the ants ever knew I was there, or if I represented some vast, unknowable force of nature to them.

By the summer of 1992, however, I was about to enter eighth grade and began to worry that other kids would think I was immature if they saw me playing with ants. I needed to find a new outlet. As luck would have it, my parents decided that with high school looming it was time to get a computer.

Up to this point, the most advanced electronics in the house had been my Super Nintendo. I was excited to explore the whole new universe of games the computer would open up for me. My dad, however, insisted that the expensive new 386 was strictly for school-related purposes. So, like any smart kid, I worked the mom angle. During a trip to the mall for back-to-school clothes, I finally got her to break - kind of. She agreed to buy me a PC game, but it had to be "educational." I was not exactly thrilled by the prospect of playing MathBlaster at home, but looking at the selection, "Sim" jumped out at me. A few months earlier I had discovered SimCity on the Super Nintendo and had fallen in love. When I took SimAnt home, I fell in love all over again.

It was Experimental Mode that really did it for me. I could lose an entire rainy Saturday just playing with virtual ants. One of my favorite games was creating an enclosed arena of walls with a little bit of food in the center and few ant lions spread around. Then I'd place a few black ants and a few red ants on either side and watch them tear each other apart. I was Caesar, and these were my gladiators.

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