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This is not the first time in history that changes affecting societies have culminated in important debates and questions that beg a solution. Indeed, it would have been unreasonable to expect a different reaction to what is currently taking place, with everything happening at a lightning pace, and with hardly any time left to reflect. New technologies have changed all areas of life, including play forms and media..

We currently have a wide range of leisure and play options available to us in multimedia format. These can be found both on the Internet and on CD-Rom, or in game cartridges for use with video consoles. There are databases of video games with thousands of references, which are updated on a daily basis, and more recently, new titles with a more pronounced educational focus have proliferated on the market. Faced with this vast leisure choice, as parents it is easy to feel disconcerted and confused, since it is a new world for us, and one which our children often dominate better than we do.

There are numerous question marks surrounding these issues. Some of these are set out below:

Can video games be a positive factor in our children's development?

Yes. Besides helping to familiarise children with computer use, they can also improve auditory and visual concentration and discrimination, strengthen reasoning, reflection and deductive thought, increase reaction speed, develop the ability to anticipate the consequences of one's own actions, improve hand-eye co-ordination, encourage creativity and imagination, etc.

Can they have harmful effects on users?

It depends. It may be said that it is not the video game itself that can have undesirable effects on the person using it, but an inappropriate content, and particularly, excessive use. That said, it does seem clear that video games with violent content, if used in excess, or if the aggressive content exceeds certain limits, also increase levels of aggression and anxiety in users. In any case, these negative consequences do not derive solely from 'unrecommended' video games but can also come from watching too many violent films, or living in an aggressive environment. The same could be said about games with sexist or racist contents .

Is it necessary to establish guidelines for their use?

We need to ensure that children use video games appropriately and in moderation, and that they combine these with other types of toys and games. As far as the user environment is concerned, children should not sit too near the screen, and there should be adequate lighting. Finally, it is important for parents to supervise children while they are playing.

What criteria should we follow when choosing video games?

We should look for toys that are suitable for the child's age, that contain appropriate messages (i.e. do not spread sexist, racist or violent attitudes), and that include varied play options (strategy, adventures, sport, etc.) Moreover, it is a good idea if they allow for shared use, enable learning to take place, and of course, are fun to play with.

Responsibility regarding the contents of video games should be shared. This involves those who manufacture them, those who recommend them and those who buy them. As adults, we should not shirk our part of the responsibility but instead take time to find out which products our children are using and offer them alternatives to enjoy playing in company.
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