Hang ups

Humble pie is unpalatable at the best of times, but especially when it's a couple of eight-year olds who insist that you down generous portions of the stuff. My mistake was being adamant about a kipper.

It is not, I insisted, "a fish", as the clue in the computerised game of Hangman had categorically stated. "Fishy", yes, but not a fish that Hans and Lotte would have recognised - not a fish in the sense that, say, a halibut, a cod or a hake is. To claim otherwise is as silly as saying that pate de foie gras is a goose.

A pretty forceful argument, I thought, especially when I hammered it home with some magisterial finger-wagging that I perfected in my days as a schoolmaster. In fact, so overwhelmed were they by the rhetoric that the sprogs were forced to resort to that most pathetic of arguments: "If the computer says it's a fish, then it is a fish. So there." And the usual threat: "If you are going to have a tantrum every time you get an answer wrong, nobody will play with you."

It was then that I made my big mistake. I consulted the dictionary. Kipper, it seems, is the name that seasoned fishermen give to male salmon during one phase of the spawning season.

The game of Hangman that we were playing is one of nine in the first issue of PC Genius, a compendium of educational computer games and support material that is being published in fortnightly instalments (the second is due out now) and heavily advertised on television. There is nothing special about this compendium, except for the price. The first instalment costs Pounds 1.50; the rest will cost Pounds 2.99. But that still works out at only 33p a game. They are graded so that there is something in every issue for the 5-7, 8-9 and 10-11 age groups - although with a few exceptions, I don't think such distinctions are terribly important.

Hangman is a good example. When you're faced with an intimidating row of blanks and the on-screen clock is running, it can feel like white-knuckle time however old you are. That's why I was miffed by the clue for a kipper. It cost me valuable time penalties which meant that on the master scoreboard, I'd only managed to edge into the Good category - disappointing, as I'd reached Genius level in spelling, in multiplication and in two of the three general knowledge games.

I'm not saying it was all plain sailing. I can't quite remember what 7 times 8 was in my schooldays, but I'm pretty sure it was wasn't 56. I'm certain, too, that I was taught that there were five continents. Apparently, there are now seven - and, for all I know, there could be a couple more by the time this is published.

Well, you live and learn, as I tell the sprogs. What's more, I suspect they can learn a lot more, a lot more quickly if they spend half an hour a day playing educational games on the computer. Those in PC Genius might not be state-of-the art, but they do exploit one aspect of multimedia that never fails to win any child's undivided attention - the spoken voice. A bubbly female explains exactly how to play the games, helps you when you're stuck and comments encouragingly on every answer you give: "Well done!" "Good!" "Terrific!" "Fantastic!" "You're a genius!" How can you not do your best when someone like that cheers you from the touch line?

Despite its ludicrous title, it is not, of course, going to produce a generation of geniuses. But it will reinforce what children learn in school, remind them that learning can be enjoyable, and ensure that they won't reach middle-age before finding out what a kipper really is.


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