Re: why use an Arduino at all and not a bare microcontroller?
That question is akin to asking someone who wants to make a video game, why use Python or Scratch or BASIC, when you can do it in C++? Or assembly?
The answer is it depends on the developer's skills, knowledge, capabilities and preferences. If you have a kid who is not the most technical but has an idea for a game, the best path for them to get it done might be an easier language like Scratch or Python. If you told them to learn assembly, they might rise to the challenge, but realistically their game would probably never get done.
By bare microcontroller what do you mean? I imagine a bare chip like a PIC that I would need to build a circuit / ecosystem around from scratch, figure out how to program, etc. Just connecting it to a PC might not be trivial.
That sounds like asking for more work of the kind I would prefer to avoid, and a little beyond my current skill & knowledge level, and available free time.
I even feel a little out of my comfort zone already, with Arduino, but I figure it's worth pursuing a little and asking questions to gauge how doable such a project is.
I'm hoping others will see value in such a device and through collaboration we can come up with a design and code sketch that can end up on some instructable or a github in the Arduino samples collection.
Meanwhile I'll just keep following what everyone is saying and try and learn something...
Anyway, thank you for your answers!