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Video-Gaming with Your Kids

Putting a Time Limit on Video Gaming

The necessity for our first regulation, time limits, became apparent almost immediately. It wasn't just that my kids would game all day if they could -- it was alarmingly easy for me to sit down with them to play only to look up and see we'd burned off three hours without even trying. There's a reason for this. Video games create goals, whether shooting all the alien ships or building a killer roller coaster, and if the designers have done their job well, then reaching those goals feels great. Game makers call this getting players into a "flow state," where they lose track of time, space, and their surroundings and are completely engaged, says Warren Spector, one of the industry's most prominent developers, who now makes games for Disney. Sounds ideal if you're on a cross-country flight. It's not quite as wonderful if there are pets going unwalked or homework that needs doing.

When my two boys and I emerged from a gaming session and my wife called it "the longest hour in the history of the world," I realized we needed to come up with some ground rules in a hurry. Our first decree: no games on weeknights. The time between getting home from school and going to bed was already short and jam-packed enough without electronic interference. We decided that on non-school days (weekends and holidays) each kid could game for an hour. It was less than a lot of their friends got to play, but we thought it struck the right balance between enjoying games and having a life.