A mother's quest for suitable combat; Games: It's often best to try out the software yourself to determine the level of violence.


When I was a new mom I was sure my children would never wear disposable diapers, take a pacifier, or play with toy guns or Barbies. I knew they would be thoughtful readers and disciplined athletes. Each child arrived with his or her own agenda and has paid little attention to mine.

Willy is 8 -- an age of football, dirt bikes, gross jokes and other guy stuff. He knows my opinions on violence and respects my rules about no gunplay, war toys or violent TV shows. I have walked the talk long enough that I can now lighten up a bit. I would like to allow one or two titles that he would enjoy and I could live with (assuming the sound is kept low, of course).

Software is rated according to content. Ratings range from E for everyone to M for mature adults only. Most software also comes with parental control options that let parents opt for less violence within the game. Because I am a bit squeamish, I asked Michael, a Marine who served in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, to help me evaluate titles.

We quickly realized that parental controls are useless. Any kid can find a way around control settings. The ratings were a bit more useful. At least we knew what to avoid. Ultimately, we concluded that going hands-on with a given title is the only way to know for sure.

The first title we looked at was "Half-Life" from Sierra (www.sierra.com) Michael loved this title and is probably still playing it. It is loaded with action, conflict and impressive graphics. It is gory, tense and rated M, so it was more than I, as the mom, could stand. Michael can keep it, and I will find something else for Willy.

The "Heroes of Might and Magic" series (www.heroes3.com) is the ultimate strategy computer version of Dungeons and Dragons. Battles are fought with bows and arrows and the casting of magic spells rather than guns and bombs. Interestingly, the 3DO company considered launching a new race of creatures that used more graphic weapons. When parents objected, 3DO abandoned the idea.

"Might and Magic" titles are filled with dragons, lizards and gnoll marauders. This is the stuff of Tolkien-esque fiction that my son will love.

The other series I am considering introducing is "Army Men" (www.armymen.com). These titles are computer strategy games featuring those little green Army guys that are required in American boyhood.

In the newest title, "Army Men II," Sarge is leading his men on a dangerous mission to recover control of the kitchen sink. These plastic guys have to navigate a hot stove, magnifying glasses and spray cans to complete their mission. Strategy is as much a part of this game as is nostalgia.

"Army Men" and the "Might and Magic" series are engaging enough that I might even end up playing with Willy. It might be time for a new rule in our house: Rules can change.

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