Gaming for grown-ups

Blowing people up is so last year. Now you can take out entire cities.

Blowing stuff up is a common theme in video games. But mindless destruction eventually gets tiresome. In such cases, you could read a book, learn a language or engage in some other life-enriching activity. Alternatively, you could switch to a more mentally stimulating video game. Here are some PC titles that'll get your synapses firing.

Defcon: Everybody Dies (Introversion Software, $20.34) puts your finger on the button of a nuclear arsenal. Your goal: inflict maximum casualties to your similarly equipped (online or computer-controlled) opponents, while suffering the fewest deaths to your region of the world. Played on a simple map of the earth with symbols representing military units, the game forces participants to make numerous strategic decisions, such as whether to use a missile silo to protect or attack a city. Users can also form alliances. Rather than glorify nuclear war, Defcon: Everybody Dies appears to highlight its dire consequences. Cities stuck by missiles quietly become pulsing white circles with statistics on people killed. Winners of matches rarely escape heavy losses. Combine the sobering outcome with its haunting soundtrack, and Defcon: Everybody Dies transforms global nuclear war into a thought-provoking gaming experience.

Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Sure, its bright colours, cartoon-like graphics and elementary-school tone may scream “kids game.” But Zoo Tycoon 2 (Microsoft Game Studios, $39.99) gives players the ageless thrill of creating and maintaining their own zoo — without the unpleasant animal smells. The latest expansion pack, Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania ($34.99), lets users train dolphins, orcas and other water-loving creatures. Players can then feature their animals' tricks in choreographed shows. The more entertaining your attractions, the greater the donations to your zoo. The latest installment in the franchise also boasts new scenarios, like rescuing a marine animal, nursing it back to health and then returning it to its natural habitat. Between choosing animals, designing exhibits and creating shows, Zoo Tycoon 2 and its marine-themed expansion pack delivers plenty of opportunities to let your imagination run wild.

Evidence: The Last Ritual A serial killer, who calls himself the Phoenix, has sent an unmarked disc to the FBI. It contains interactive puzzles that could give clues to the criminal's location. The authorities have publicly released the disc with the hope someone will uncover information that will lead to the Phoenix's arrest. That's the premise behind Evidence: The Last Ritual (DreamCatcher Interactive, $29.99), a game that serves up brainteasers in a fresh and often disturbing way. For example, one puzzle shows the distressed face of a speechless young woman. (Spoiler warning: By counting the times she blinks her eyes, players crack a numerical code.) Aside from flexing their powers of observation, participants visit real and fake websites for hints to solving puzzles. E-mails from imaginary characters further blur the line between fantasy and reality. Think of the game as Sudoku meets the psychological thriller Seven.


Average age of video-game players in Canada: 33
Portion of video-game players who are female: 38%
Most popular video-game genre in 2005: Action
Video-game hardware and software sales in 2005: $806 million