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Give in to video games

Gadget guru and devoted dad, Jason Bradbury, has been getting down and digital with his daughter.

Video games are good for children. There, I've said it. I realise that my opening comment is going to alienate half my readers before I've even begun, but assuming you're still reading, allow me to explain.

Once you remove all the trashy war and violence games from your assortment, video games offer some uniquely educational and stimulating ways for your child to spend an hour or two of their week. And here's my next controversial point: it is my opinion that children as young as three can get an awful lot from my favourite digital entertainment medium.

I have a three-year old daughter called Marnie, who is a big fan of the Nintendo DS. She plays Nintendogs, best described as a dog and puppy simulator. The game uses the Nintendo handheld's remarkable touch screen and allows young players to nurture their surprisingly realistic pooch with stroking, voice commands and finger play. She is also a big fan of free flash games. Flash is a programming language that has ushered in a new age of quite sophisticated games that only need an Internet browser to function, so they're a great way to get youngsters hands on with a computer. What's great about Flash games is that the young user is also learning basic keyboard and mouse skills while playing. Most of you will be familiar with the excellent Flash based games on the Cbeebies website also try Doron-Zur, a Flash gaming site with content organised by age range.

There is a gaming genre that I have always championed - Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming or MMOG. These are games which provide a living world, twenty four seven, large sprawling environments often tens of thousands of square miles in size that players are free to roam. A great introduction to these kinds of games is Toontown Online. As well as providing a huge and colourful Disney world to explore, the game has a simple goal-orientated narrative: having created their own animated toon character, each player must find ways to stop the frumpy Cogs from trying to turn ToonTown from colour to black and white. This is achieved by collecting jokes and throwing them at the miserable Cogs. Players can find jokes or buy them with jellybeans, the game world currency (I could write a paragraph on just ToonTown's virtual economy!) The chat function is brilliantly implemented in ToonTown Online, requiring offline vetting from an adult in order for two players to be able to message each other in-game and this touches on one of my favourite aspects of these kinds of games, their socialising function. The game is aimed at the 7+ audience, but it you're willing to sit with your younger child and read the simple text bubbles that appear on screen then I would say children as young as 3+ can get a lot from it.

For the slightly older youngster (oxymoron alert!), consider Pirates of the Caribbean Online.This is the only game I'd recommend that does have an element of ferocity to it and is aimed at 10+ players. It's another massive multiplayer environment that offers friendship and chat against the familiar swash buckling background of the movie trilogy. While the game does include an awful lot of sabre-swishing fighting, it's also filled with an intriguing magic spell system and a task-based challenge engine – all under the of Disney's strict moral code.

Read more from Jason at his blog www.jasonbradbury.com

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