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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 09:11 GMT
Parents face video games dilemma
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Children playing on a GameCube

It has often been observed that the family that plays together stays together, but does that still apply when it comes to computer games?

Video games ignite strong passions. For many parents, they are the epitome of time-wasting and a sure-fire route to the early onset of repetitive strain injury.

But it is getting harder and harder to deny that computer games are a big part of contemporary culture after all, on some counts, the cash generated by the whole game industry ranks with that from movie ticket sales.

For parents who grew up with games the question of when, not if, to introduce their kids to the delights of gaming is a tricky one.

Lifelong learning

There is no doubt that today's kids are going to be gamers for most of their lives. Statistics gathered by the BBC reveal that 100% of all 6 to 10-year-olds play games.

It is an issue that I, as a relatively new parent of twin boys, have started wondering about. Although parenting has significantly cut down the time and energy I have to play, it is something I am keen to keep on doing.

Close-up of game in VTech Smile console, VTech
Consoles are being made just for small children
And when my toddlers are old enough I certainly want to give them the chance to wipe the floor with their old man at a shoot-em-up or strategy game.

There is probably no better to person to ask about this than Andrew Bub, the creator and editor of the Gamer Dad website.

Mr Bub said he started Gamer Dad because no other site he visited for advice seemed to appreciate that gamers can be parents too. The fact that the average age of gamers is now 27 perhaps explains this bias.

He too is in no doubt that games and all their trappings are now a core part of teen culture but he is no zealot when it comes to getting his own children playing.

"I'm letting them go at their own pace," he said of his two children, one of which is still a toddler and the other aged six.

Though he has been a gamer for decades and a reviewer for more than eight years, he is in no hurry to put a joystick in their hand as soon as they put down their dummy.

This is despite the fact that many toys now have a video game component and companies such as VTech and Leapfrog produce game-playing gadgets for children as young as three.

Mr Bub said many games that are available on the PC are now produced for cut down consoles such as the VTech Smile which uses large toddler-friendly joysticks that have big, easily mashable buttons.

I tried my own boys out on the VTech Smile console and, though they liked the pictures, they found it hard to grasp that what they did with their hands had an effect on screen.

Break through

This is another reason, said Mr Bub, that he let his offspring discover games for themselves. There are certain developmental milestones that they have to pass to be able to work out what a game is about and to co-ordinate fingers to participate.

Close-up of Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo
Many Nintendo games appeal to younger children
By the age of three or three-and-a-half children have developed enough to be able to play games.

The VTech Smile console has a starting age of three and my boys are nine months younger than that which probably explains their less than successful attempts to get to grips with it.

Mr Bub is sure that when his children do play games that the experience does them good.

For a start the mouse and keyboard skills it teaches will undoubtedly be useful in later life but, more importantly, because they encourage children to plan, think and co-ordinate.

"You cannot play a computer game without thinking," he said.

When parents see children playing computer games, he said, they criticise because they think they are being taught "Kill! Kill! Kill!".

"But," he said, "what any kid is doing is thinking 'Survive! Survive! Survive! You are not going to bring me down.'"

But, said Mr Bub, the hard decision to reach is not if or when to buy a game console for your children but to have the courage to let them play by themselves and with their friends.

"There has to be time when dad plays with the kids and time when they play on their own," he said.

Which could mean that its game over for this gamer dad for some time to come.

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