originally published in THE PENN

Marching 7/4 written by Lori Ferguson

Issue date: 1/24/05 Section: Opinion

Ever since video games became the rage, they’ve caused friction between children and parents.As a parent, I understand why parents consider them wastes of time. Kids often neglect schoolwork or sleep in their zeal to advance to the next level.A balance should be struck between work and play, giving kids time to unwind along with the time they spend focused on work — as it should be with any activity.However, parents often miss the benefits that are derived from this entertaining and educational activity.That’s right: I said “educational.”I’m not just talking about “teaching software” — I’m referring to the games I found listed on GameSpot News’ Top Ten sales list — including series like “Need for Speed,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Halo.”Because of time and expense, I’ve never played these popular games, but I can talk about the one that I’m playing in my downtime now, “Neverwinter Nights” and its expansion packs, “Shadows of Undrentide” and “Hordes of the Underdark.”One needs to create a character to play, leading to many decisions such as what race — human, dwarf, elf, and so on — gender, age and name the character should represent. Players also create the physical manifestations of their fighter by choosing body type, hair color and costume.One of the most important decisions is what occupation, or class, the character pursues. It all depends on a person’s preference and also on what will be the most effective class for that particular storyline.These games also incorporate teamwork, as they are often played in multi-player mode, where players link over the Internet or within a local area network. To get through a game successfully, the group needs to find a balance and work together as a team instead of being glory-hogs striving for individual victory.I’ve been challenged by these games through the many puzzles incorporated within their structures. I’ve had to use critical thinking skills as well as problem-solving techniques that are easily transferable to my studies and other work. I get quite frustrated sometimes, but I’ve surprised myself by my increased analytical skills.Sometimes I have to ask for help — something that I am often stubborn about, for my pride usually doesn’t let me admit my weaknesses. However, I am learning that asking for help from someone who has different skills than I is logical and mature behavior.Another complaint we hear from parents is violence. I do believe that some games are over the top and that parents should be aware of what their kids are playing. However, I see video games as an outlet for stress relief, like sports — the only difference is that more mental power is exerted than physical energy.My advice to parents: try the games out for yourself. Not only will you be able to check out the content, you’ll find you have something in common with your kids. And who knows? You may find yourself enjoying them as much as they do.