I am weak. Very weak. Show me a sale with two XBOX 360 video games for 60 quid and I'm pretty much bound to buy a couple. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I can resist pretty much anything but temptation. I ended up buying Test Drive Unlimited, a game which lets you tear up and down great chunks of Hawaii in a fast car, and Viva Pinata, a gardening game. Number one wife noted wryly that the only time that I will actually do any gardening is inside a computer, and this seems to be the case.
In the game you create a nice garden in the hope that wandering pinata will come and live there, breed, eat each other, and form a living ecosystem. Pinata are animated versions of those things that kids at posh birthday parties in Mexican restaurants smash open to get out toys and sweets and there seem to be an unlimited number of these which can crawl, burrow, fly, swim and so on.
The game is aimed firmly at children, so I reckoned I would be able to cope. And so it seemed when I started. A friendly girl with a voice able to convey more enthusiasm than a very enthusiastic thing tells you what to do in awed terms, and introduces you to your toolkit noting that "If you hit your pinata with the shovel they may become ill". So let's play nicely out there kids.
Anyhoo, a lot happens in a very short time. Within an hour I had my version of a green and pleasant land running nicely and a few different varieties of pinata living side by side, eating, breeding and throwing fireballs at each other. And it looks very pretty. The clock spins in accelerated real time and the sun and moon wax and wane very effectively.
And I realised one more thing that differentiates me from youngsters (and probably lots of grown ups as well). I think that, once they have picked up the control system, kids would now have the patience and determination to try making different pinata, plant different seeds, build new types of garden, put their own drawings on their own breeds and do all the other things which make the game so much fun. But I couldn't be bothered. I turned the joypad over to number one son, who has more of an appetite for this kind of thing and wandered off to do some proper work. In a trice he had added a whole bunch of trees and species that would have taken me ages to sort out.
I think the snag is that at my age if I'm going to spend any amount of time in a learning curve I like to think that I'm going to get something concrete out of it at the end, and a pretty new pinata just doesn't cut it for me. For me the game is just too much like gardening, in that it requires effort and thought, and I'd rather put those into something else, like messing around with computers (which is probably how I really enjoy myself).
However, if you are looking for a game to play with your kids which is bright, colourful and creates a living environment with genuine causes and effects and unlimited scope for experimentation and cooperation, then you should take a look.