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The Birds and Bees, Via Your PC

CYBURBIA

November 07, 1994|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Du e to an editing error, a portion of this column was missing from The Goods page in Friday's Life & Style. We are reprinting it in full.

To the age-old kids' question, "Where do babies come from?" there is a new answer:

"Go ask your computer."

Sex education has entered the digital realm with the release of the kids' CD-ROM "AnnaTommy," backed by no less a prestigious institution than the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn.

"AnnaTommy," which is described on the package as "an adventure into the human body" for ages 8 and up, is not strictly a sex-education disk, but it does broach the subject.

And in an attempt to make this biological exploration an entertaining "adventure," "AnnaTommy" takes on the format of an arcade game, complete with colorful graphics and a missile-firing spaceship.

That's where the creators of "AnnaTommy" went a little wild.

This is probably the first and last computer game that challenges you to shoot explosive bombs into sperm clusters in the testes or into follicle-encased eggs in the ovary.

Fun for the whole family.

"AnnaTommy," which is currently available only for Windows CD-ROM for about $32, begins with a short animated sequence about two junior high honors students of the future who have won a trip through the human body. (Makes you wonder what second prize was.)

They and their blue spaceship are miniaturized and then injected into a body, a la the 1966 science-fiction movie "Fantastic Voyage."

A friendly talking computer provides the commentary as Anna and Tommy are propelled through the bloodstream. "Now approaching the urinary system!" the computer announces with excitement early on. Luckily, the player can choose from one of nine other systems to explore, including the nervous, digestive, endocrine, skeletal and reproductive.

Where do we go first? No contest. "Approaching testes!" yells out the computer as we steer the ship in that direction.

Tommy, at least, is in awe of this inside view. "The reproductive system is a pretty intense place," he tells Anna.

There is trouble ahead.

"It seems sperm cells are not dividing successfully!" the computer suddenly warns as we enter the testes. That's when the game starts. You get points for every sperm cluster you blast apart, allowing the little chromosome carriers to swim free.

I was viewing this CD-ROM with helpful computer programmer Jim Sabo of The Times' new on-line TimesLink service. An old hand at games, Jim immediately took to blasting the clusters as he expertly navigated the ship. But he wasn't happy about it.

"Pretty scary noise it's making," Jim said with a shudder as he blew apart another cluster. I shudder to think what Freud would have made of this.

Then it was on to the female side, just past the "Urethra this way" sign and into an ovary. There, we played a similar game to release the eggs trapped inside follicles.

This style of educational game play was pioneered by teacher Jan Davidson, who created the hugely successful "Math Blaster" game now used around the world.

Davidson's program forces kids to solve math problems in order for them to get the chance to shoot up a spaceship or other fun activities.

Unfortunately, the game action in "AnnaTommy" is almost completely divorced from the educational component of the CD-ROM. This makes the information imparted by "AnnaTommy" seem little more than an afterthought.

But if it helps educate kids a bit about their bodies, I guess it can be a positive experience. After all, it's better they learn a bit about sex here than out on the streets. Or even worse, on the Internet.

* Cyburbia's Internet address is colker @ news.latimes.com.

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