Family fun with high 'death toll': Alex Renton visits Sega's first 'high-technology entertainment centre' in Britain

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The Independent Online
I KILLED 23 cowboys before lunchtime yesterday. All with a handgun on Mad Dog Macree. Then, with a samurai sword, I topped 18 of the Ninja Force, before blowing away 19 fighter- bombers on an R-360 flight simulator. When I got to Gold Par Golf, and couldn't take the first hole in less than 12 shots, I had a go at killing the caddy.

That, according to the posters for Bournemouth's Sega World, is 'The future of family entertainment'. Actually, the pounds 3m 'high-technology entertainment centre' does not seem so very different from a traditional arcade, just less dingy. It has, however, for those who know Mario the Plumber from Sonic the Hedgehog, some eyebrow-raising technology.

There is Virtua Racing, where inflating cushions in the seat of your car try to emulate the G-forces you experience spinning off yet another corner at 260 kilometres per hour. There is also the flight simulator, in which, if you put the aircraft into a 360 degree roll, you will yourself do a 360 degree roll. There is a big red button to press if you feel sick.

In Japan, Sega operates nearly 300 similar centres, which contribute 17 per cent of the company's revenue. Now it intends to capitalise on its position as market leader in computer games and systems in Europe by catching the punter both at home and on the street. Further centres will open at the rate of two a month.

For yesterday's preview, 30 children had been bused in from a Barnardo's special school in Wokingham, Berkshire. Darren Houlihan, 14, said it was 'brilliant' after shooting down several squadrons on the flight simulator. 'I like being turned upside down. It's wicked.' The game would normally cost pounds 3 a go. If Darren had had to pay, he would have already used up a month's pocket money.

Barnardo's is Sega's 'official charity', though yesterday Angie Robertson, of Barnar do's, would not say how much Sega was giving in return for the connection. She dismissed suggestions that addiction to arcade games was a significant cause of juvenile crime. 'We consider that anything in excess is dangerous. People will steal to take drugs.'

The centre has created 25 permanent jobs and has been welcomed by Bournemouth's business community. Along the road, the clairvoyant Lee Bennett views Sega World benignly. 'I started out in the old days of steam engine rides and halfpenny slot machines - and on any fairground you like, the arrival of a big new ride is always good for business.'

What could he predict for Sega World? 'It is definitely going to be a mega-success.'

(Photograph omitted)