We've come a long way since the first video games, such as PONG. Video game manufacturers use stunningly realistic environments, and characters that sometimes look real. Game developers use composers to develop the music and writers to develop a story line to go along with the game, as well as using actors for the voices of the characters.
Because of the steady progression and proliferation of video games of all sorts, and the widespread use of the Internet and greatly increased access speeds, game developers, websites and even individuals are putting these games out on the Internet, often for free! Such companies as Disney, Nickelodeon, Microsoft, and many others make these games available. Now think about how often your child wants something new. Put Susie on a computer and point her at a website with literally hundreds of free games to play, and you might not hear a peep from her again that day until, of course, it's time to get her off the computer.
In the past, games that were made available to play online were all "downloads," meaning you would need to get a program from the Internet and run it on your computer, separately from the Internet. This is great for those of you who do not have a constant access to the Internet, but the new way to play is through programs that run within your browser and only work while you are connected to the Internet. So if you are accessing the Internet through dial-up, these games will work, but may be a bit slow.
First, here's a warning! Although these games are free, many of them have special features you can only access by paying for them. My kids purchased a "paid account" with their allowance by buying gift cards from our local Rite-Aid. The card they buy has an activation code in it that gives them access to some of these special features. You can also use a pre-paid American Express "credit card" that is also available in most grocery stores to pay for these accounts, but it's not really needed.
Boys usually like racing and Trackmania Nations Forever is a very full-featured download/online racing game. The game play is fast and furious as you race to beat your own time, trying for medals that let you unlock more and ever-harder tracks to race when you aren't connected to the Internet. It features an astonishing array of tracks that include loops, jumps, obstacles and customizable racecars, as well as a feature that lets the more ambitious/older players build new courses that can be shared online and even race online against other people.
Ever hear of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)? It's quite a mouthful that simply means "online gaming nirvana." These types of games are ideal for young children who can read, because much of what they do on these games involves reading instructions and following directions. Disney's ToonTown is an excellent example, where players create their own characters and comically fight the evil "Cog" business robots who are trying to take over ToonTown. Another excellent MMORPG for kids is Club Penguin. Club Penguin has contests, tasks and a lot of fun items to purchase, such as Puffles (online pets). It allows the kids to write articles and create drawings and then save the things they create online for others to see, become spies, get jobs, do treasure hunts, and even become a black belt in their own version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Club Penguin, just like ToonTown, allows kids to safely play online, and even make friends with other children, without you, the parent, having to worry about inappropriate relationships or foul language, as both these games feature pre-scripted and safe chatting capabilities. You have complete control and the kids have tons of fun exploring these two environments for hours and hours.
There are literally hundreds of safe sites, with thousands of free games for kids of all ages, scattered all across the Internet. Bookmark the sites for your kids and show them how to access them, and they will thank you for it. Here's just a few:
Older Kids (reading age & older)
Tim Gesner is an alleged "Computer Geek" and has been working professionally in the computer business for over fifteen years.
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