By Leah Kraus
Senior Staff Writer

‘Grand Theft Auto” means nothing to me. I have no desire to play ‘Halo” or ‘Doom.” And though I’ve played ‘Guitar Hero” a few times, it’s still not at the top of my list.

In my favorite video/computer game, I have the power to build a roller coaster so nauseating that my guests puke as soon as they leave the ride exit. I can create a row of 23 Ferris wheels in all the colors of the rainbow and line pathways with pink and purple flowers. If the guests in my amusement park piss me off by saying they want to leave, I can pick them up with my handy, tweezer-like mouse tool and plop them in a lake.
‘World of Warcraft,” you have nothing on ‘Roller Coaster Tycoon.”

I rediscovered my love for this game over winter break, in between job interviews and marathons of ‘Jon ‘ Kate Plus 8.” I play old-school style, meaning the original ‘RCT,” where all the amusement park guests are creepy, middle-aged men in solid-colored T-shirts and the graphics are pitiful even for 1999 standards.

Why upgrade when you’re completely content in your addiction?

For those of you who are not familiar with this game, I’ll give you a teeny overview. You are given an amusement park base, a variety of attractions to choose from and a loan from the bank.

For each level in the game, you receive different challenges, such as keeping a certain number of guests in the park after a length of time or keeping your park value at a certain level so you can advance to the next round of play.

You can add handymen, mechanics and security guards to the mix to keep your park running smoothly, information kiosks where your guests can pick up park maps to keep them from getting lost and umbrellas in case of a rain shower.

Contrary to what most may say, there is an educational component to the game, especially when it comes to business strategies.

Maybe you decide you need a handyman to clean up litter and a security guard to keep vandalism at a minimum. Even though this will take away from your profit initially, guests may also decide to stay at your park longer because they are happier with the litter- and vandalism-free conditions. They will end up paying more for food or other rides, because they are staying longer, which could actually increase your profit overall (‘RCT” is great practice for the Simon School of Business).

You also learn engineering strategies. If certain parts of your roller coaster do not connect at the right height, it will cause a crash and your guests will die.

Even nutritional strategies are a part of the game. Who knew it was necessary to provide food stalls to prevent starving park guests from revolting?

Educationally, it’s a very sound game, but more importantly, it’s fun.

Being a lover of roller coasters myself (I drove all the way to Sandusky, Ohio to experience the exhilaration of one of the top coasters in the world, Millenium Force), my favorite part of the game is designing coasters. You have an array of designs to choose from, such as wooden, steel, inverted, suspended or coasters with adorable little mouse cars and can make them as big or as small, with as many loops and twists as you want.

As guests exit your ride, you can watch their reactions which may range from a little jump accompanied by a fist pump or simply a green face with slightly protruding cheeks to see if they enjoyed your ride or if it made them sick.

Of course, you can also add other rides to your park, such as log flumes, boat hires, motion simulators, haunted houses and merry-go-rounds, which are my least favorite because you can’t personalize anything on them, and that just ruins it for me.

As you keep playing, more rides are introduced and, depending on the level of funding and research you put into the park, rides can be introduced more quickly.
‘RCT” isn’t the only tycoon-minded game out there.

The second-most popular game is probably ‘Zoo Tycoon,” where, like the title says, you create your own zoos, complete with animals, zoo keepers, food stalls and everything that could possibly go into a dream zoo.

After doing some research of my own, I also came across ‘Airline Tycoon,” ‘School Tycoon” and ‘Railroad Tycoon.”

I also found ‘Prison Tycoon,” whose Web site brags that the game includes ’96 unique and detailed prisoner model variations created to allow for a wide and varied prison population” and says its ‘guards subdue aggressive prisoners, medical staff treat injuries, chaplains administer to prisoners’s spiritual needs and therapists talk to prisoners to lift their spirits.”

This game also received an average rating of 1.5 out of five stars on Amazon.
Not all Tycoon ‘games” are guaranteed to be of value, but ‘RCT” has been so popular that it’s gone through two upgrades, as well as various expansion packs.

Until they create a ‘Bar Tycoon” or perhaps a ‘Dog Show Tycoon” complete with shar pei and kerry blue terrier breeds, I am confident that ‘RCT” is one of the best games out there.

Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.

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