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Computer Arcade Offers Variety, Shopping Escape

On the battlefield, circa 1942, Steve Garcia likes the challenge of cyber-warfare. He can either be a scout, medic, engineer or on the assault team, fighting for the Axis or the Allies.

"You're joining this battle that took place in 1942. You can jump, crouch, peek your head around corners," Garcia said.

All this takes place while the operator is looking through the sights of a machine gun, pistol or tank, and never leaving Springfield Mall. Welcome to the Cyberzone Centers of America, a new face on the second level at the mall. Equipped with 24 computers, six X-Box and six PlayStation 2 terminals, the center is a new option in the arcade environment. The three configurations these games come in are role-playing games (RPG), real-time strategy (RTS), and first-person shooter (FPS) points of view. Some are a combination of role playing and first person.

"They try to create reality with as much detail as possible," manager Francisco Xaviar said.

Xaviar grew up in Prince Georges County, Md., and Fairfax County. Garcia, assistant manager, graduated from Hayfield Secondary School last year.

THE PERSONAL COMPUTERS are loaded with games or Web access so players can get on a network and play others as well. In addition, the computers are loaded with word-processing and slide-show software so some customers can do homework as well. Springfield resident Ermiyas Woldu became an expert at "Counter Strike" but also took advantage of the homework possibility. He is a student at Northern Virginia Community College.

"I get some homework done, too. I wrote some essays here," he said.

Herndon resident Patrick Valdez played "Call of Duty," a first-person shooter game.

"I like those war type of games, old-fashioned World War II type," he said.

When computer games are mentioned, the vision of hours in front of a screen, caught up in fantasy and violence, may seem like a waste of time and a bad influence on teenagers. The games at Cyberzone have a rating as well, and when parents drop off a teen to play while they shop, they can limit it to a certain rating. There is "M" for mature, featuring blood, gore and violence; "T" for teen, featuring blood, violence and strong language; and then "E" for everyone.

Xaviar said that parents can specify what game ratings their child is allowed to play.

Xaviar is aware of the negative backlash caused by some games. “Grand Theft Auto,” for instance, involves robbing prostitutes, shooting and nudity.

"You have to put it in context," Xaviar said. "Your everyday guy can make sense of it. The politicians can use it as a tool. It can be blown out of proportion."

Unlike old arcades, Cyberzone customers can leave quarters at home. This is a cash, check or charge operation. It is $10 a year to join and then $3 an hour for members and $5 an hour for nonmembers. The Springfield Mall store's doors opened Nov. 15 in time for holiday shopping. Xaviar's plan was for parents or spouses to drop the gamers off while they shopped. Cyberzone is on the second level of the mall, across from the movie theaters. Friday and Saturday nights Cyberzone is open until 1 a.m.