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Saturday, September 03, 2005
  best- The positive side of videogames
Videogames have been blamed for making kids fat, introducing them to sex and violence, luring them away from family conversations and shortening their attention spans.

Now a small number of game makers are creating games meant to encourage young players to exercise, focus, monitor their health and even relax.

A computer game called Play Attention is used in school districts around United States to help kids with attention-deficit disorder to focus. A company called Digital Praise – whose motto is “Glorifying God through Interactive Media” – is selling adventure games that teach players about values such as patience and trust.

Konami’s exercise game Dance Dance Revolution, which some players say has helped them lose weight, has spawned a number of imitators.

A Minnesota father has developed a glucose meter called GlucoBoy – which will hook up to Nintendo’s Game Boy – to motivate young people with diabetes by rewarding proper monitoring of blood sugar with videogames.

As politicians renew questions over how the videogames industry police itself, pointing to hidden sex scenes in latest version of Grand Theft Auto, games and devices that explicitly promote healthy behavior still make up a small part of the $10 billion-a-year videogame market.

But they provide a window into what some experts say will become a significant new use of gaming technology.

Healthy games

If well-designed, the games should make parents and kids happy. Sam Groves, 15, says his parents like the nonviolent theme of Dance Dance Revolution – and the fact that the game gets him moving. He has lost 15 pounds since he started playing in December.

Next month, an initiative called Games for Health will hold its second annual conference at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine, where health care professionals and game creators will discuss ways to collaborate on games that help kids with cancer manage the disease and hospitals distract patients from pain.

So far, the exercise games have been most successful at crossing the bridge between entertainment and health.

More than 2.5 million copies of the home version of Dance Dance Revolution have been sold in the US Sony’s new EyeToy games put players on the screen, encouraging physical activity in the virtual world.

The fun factor

Impressively, most of the kids that play Dance Dance Revolution were straight, were sober, weren’t smoking, and weren’t partying.

Gameplaying has helped students with attention problems to focus in their school work. Wearing a helmet that tracks their brain waves, students try to make objects fly across the screen or build pyramids using only their powers of concentration.

While the district has ho formal data, teachers report that students who have been playing the game for 30 minutes twice a week are paying better attention in class. As for the kids, “they enjoy it”.

-the good side-

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