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After 13-year-old Lauren Alexanderson of Plainfield, N.J., was diagnosed with bone cancer three years ago, she spent a year in and out of New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital. Too exhausted by chemotherapy even to walk down the hall, she went whole days without talking to another person her age. Then Starbright World, a computer network created by a children's charity headed by Steven Spielberg, helped bring some light into her gloom. Using a Starbright computer, Alexanderson chatted with Vanessa Gonzalez, now 15, who was being treated for the same disease at Stanford University. "She was someone I could relate to instantly," says Alexanderson, now cancer-free. The two told jokes and commiserated over their hair loss. "I had nobody else I could talk to," says Gonzalez, who is still in treatment. "I would try to explain things to friends, and they would say that they understood, but I knew in my heart that they really didn't."
Begun in 1995, Starbright World links kids in 11 hospitals nationwide with videoconferencing, computer chat rooms and e-mail. Its parent, the nonprofit Starbright Foundation, plans to expand the system to 100 hospitals in the next year. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf (ret.) is heading the fund-raising campaign. Spielberg helped start the effort after meeting seriously ill children who visited his movie sets under the auspices of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "They were enchanted and the pain was instantly gone," he says. On Starbright World, he told PEOPLE, kids "talk shop. They talk about their chemo and their recovery from bone marrow transplants, and they talk about their prognosis and how their families are taking it.... This is a way kids can finally control their lives while parents and doctors are controlling their health."
A WORLD APART
Unlike Roman-numeraled movies, sequels to computer games often outdo the originals, thanks to advancing technology. So the makers of Myst, the best-selling CD-ROM game ever, took their time creating a successor. Now Myst addicts—3.5 million copies have sold since 1993—finally have Riven, a year behind schedule
"This was an undertaking of Hollywood proportions in our mind," says Rand Miller, 38, who created the games with his brother Robyn, 31. The $55 Riven, which cost $10 million to produce, is worth the wait. Like Myst, Riven transports players to a world suffused with mystery and strewn with ambiguous clues. It ups the artistic ante, taking Myst's haunting beauty to new levels of detail. As with Myst, the object of the game is not so much winning as simply being there. "That's what we've worked for," says Rand. "People getting lost in this world that we created."
Just in time to inject some method into holiday-shopping madness, Consumer Reports is making its Web debut. Consumer Reports Online (www.ConsumerReports.org) offers the magazine's reliable ratings of products from cars to VCRs to fruitcakes, formerly available only on such services as America Online. Web visitors, however, will have to fork over $2.95 a month or $24 a year to get at the site's two-year ratings archive and extensive automobile info. "We take no advertising money," points out Consumer Reports new-media head Nancy Macagno. If any site can get surfers to pay up, it ought to be this one.
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