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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cyber games more than recreation

Debra-Lynn B. Hook

Oh, how I long for the days when computer games were definitive fluff: the mustachioed buffoon Mario stepping off a building onto a balloon into a chasm, happy smiley PacMan innocently chomping through a maze, only to be gobbled up by the preteen at the controls.

The rules were clear then. We parents knew these games were nothing but opiate for the 12-year-old masses, their version of our Bugs Bunny. We tolerated them as part of the 21st century kid landscape. And then we came down, hard: 30 minutes a day, 45 tops.

These days, however, my youngest, a good boy, a normal boy with all the normal interests of a healthy 12-year-old male, plays strategic computer games – educational computer games.

One of the games ( www.travian.com) he plays has him in an alliance of chieftains, each of the chiefs in charge of a digital city that is alive with activity day and night, whether the chief has to go do his homework or not.

Complete with farms he plants and harvests, a work force he manages, a growing population he encourages and – most ominously – enemies he must guard against day and night, my son’s city would use his help 24-7 if only his mom would let him.

“Time for supper!” I yell.

“But, Mom, if I don’t mine copper and tin to make bronze ore, I won’t be able to smith my weapon to defend my alliance against Sillysod,” he says when he’s playing the other game. Unlike my approach to Mario, which was simply “Get the child away from the evil video/computer game before his retinas pop out,” these days I question my knee-jerk opinion of the medium.

These educational computer games are believed to enhance logical thinking and problem solving skills. They improve alertness, math skills, spelling and vision.

They also help develop communication skills. These games are played in instant-messaging communication with an alliance – in my son’s case, his friends – as they work together to build a community. Most of these games cannot be won without cooperative play and community, which is built on screen and off. Yeah, so OK, like we all still have lots of concerns about video and computer games.

But the parenting on this may not longer be so clear-cut. The medium is not necessarily the enemy. Computer games simply force me to expand my old way of thinking, while holding on to my role as parent. I have to open myself up to his reality, even it is cyberspace.

Journalist and mom of three Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Contact her at www.debralynnhook.com.
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