Renee Ballenger

If there is a Video Gamers Anonymous group, Anita Kucera, Associate Director of Residential and Greek Life, should be the president. Only exception is, she has no problem with anyone knowing she is addicted to computer games, and absolutely loves it.

Afterall, it’s her husband David’s fault. Two years ago, when Anita was laid-up longterm recovering from knee replacement surgery, David brought home a copy of Civ City Rome (Civ is short for Civilization). “He was actually being very thoughtful, helping me pass my time in a fun way,” Anita reveals. “Now, though, David curses the day he ever brought it home to me. But, for just $19.99, we got an incredible buy; I’ve been planning and managing ‘my city’ for two years.”

Anita won’t reveal exactly how much time she spends playing games on the computer, but apparently, it is considerably-enough dedication, because a manufacturer of computer games contacted her after noting online, her patterns of play. So now, Anita plays while she “works,” analyzing, testing and troubleshooting new and developing games before they emerge onto the market.

She spends about three hours per new game assessing them for graphic appeal, user ability, age appropriateness and overall product quality. “I don’t get paid, but that’s OK. To me, it’s just a hoot!”

Playing Civ City Rome is really quite complex, however, there is no joystick on Anita’s computer. “I’m not really good with hand-eye coordination,” she explains. “I like puzzles that require problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, so I’m very attracted to roleplaying types of games.”

In Civ City Rome, the player fulfills the role of a city comptroller or city manager, literally on a daily basis. As creator of her own Roman civilization, Anita is building stores, and obtaining supplies and services necessary for the people in her city to survive. She must maintain effective time management strategies, manage logistically, and really, do anything necessary to keep the people of her city satisfied. How does one “win” the Civ City Rome game? “It comes down to, ‘Do you want your city to survive or not?’” Anita states.

Anita has nurtured this relationship, if you will, with “her city and her people” so conscientiously and lovingly, for so long, that its part in her life is, at times, somewhat surreal. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the controller in the movie ‘Truman,’” Anita shares. “I can go into people’s homes and watch them eat their dinner. If a random traveler arrives in my Town Center, I can just delete him.”

A green arrow flashes on her computer screen, interrupting her conversation, and she announces, “Oh, someone needs a bigger home.” She moves her mouse with agility and quick, multiple clicks. “If the people aren’t happy, they let me know. They ‘tell me’ when I need to beautify the grounds of the city, or if I need to build more housing.”

As their leader, Anita is taxed with keeping the economy healthy, so she creates businesses, and thus jobs—which bring in more people, which in turn drives demand for support services like farms, factories, clinics, markets and entertainment—all of which Anita chooses, designs and constructs. She has even initiated trade agreements with other cities.

“It’s just amazing!” she exclaims. “It keeps me sharp, because I am executing life decisions that affect hundreds or thousands of ‘people.’ If I want a family to have children, I have to understand that I also have to give them what they need to hopefully have happy marriages, healthy families, and the best education. When people are unhappy, you need to do something, like build more roads, or whatever it is that they want to function comfortably and successfully.”

Managing a simulated city takes real research. For instance, when Anita found she had to build a training center for the civilization’s necessary enclave of gladiators, the Civ City Rome program required, and assisted her in research on coliseums—how they are built, the historical differences in design and architecture, and other factual nuances. “I really don’t enjoy the army management part of running a civilization, but I really thrive in the learning and subsequent tasks I have to do as a result. Like, when I built the coliseum, in which gladiators go up against other gladiators, and also animals—well, that meant I had to hire animal keepers, and I had to provide for training of all of the coliseum employees, and I even decided it helpful to offer counseling services to the warriors.”

Along with having hours and hours of fun, Anita recognizes how computer games like Civ City Rome can be very effective tools in learning, or personality assessments, career inventories, and training. “These kinds of games certainly demand critical thinking skills. I spent two weeks perfecting two rooms in the puzzlebased game Safe Cracker. These games make sense for me, in that they help older people stay in shape.”

She chuckles and then confesses,“My husband thinks it’s sick how seriously I’m into ‘my city,’ but he does like playing Wii. . .he and I golf together, we fight, we box.

And, we work up a sweat, so that can’t be bad for us!” And, for a player whose first video adventure was Atari’s Pong some 30 years ago, managing and leading cities from her own living room isn’t too bad either. At any rate, Anita is having fun. She does assess games for all ages, and sometimes, she gets discovered, so to speak.

“Talk about cyberspace rage!” she laughs out loud. One day she was testing a pirate-type game and was asked to leave the game. Anita suggests that while reading instructions beforehand isn’t her forte, she apparently was doing something peculiar in the game, when another online player came on and asked, “How old are you?”

Anita responded, “Who? Me, or the character I’m playing?” The annoyed online player shot back, “You are lame! Get out of here!”