Genre #1: Get Up off the Couch
This game requires your kids to move more than just their fingers.
The game: Dance Factory
Why it's fun: In a house full of Dance Dance Revolution addicts, we eventually grew weary of the song collection. Enter Dance Factory, which lets kids boogie to their personal music collection by choreographing a dance to go with the beat of any song. To prepare for their recitals, kids pick their favorite music CDs, follow on-screen directions, and wait for it to create your groovy moves. (Rated E for everyone; PlayStation2; $40; Codemasters; codemasters.com ).
Why you'll like it: Another great workout for game-crazed kids. Burn an entire CD of dances using your own music collection.
Genre #2: Become a Ruler
The fate of the world — or at least a small part of it — lies in your child's hands.
The game: The Sims 2 Pet
Why it's fun: Funny and surprisingly addictive, The Sims 2 of 2004 was a hit because it allowed kids to control family life, including relationships and events. They made their Sims go to work, pay their bills, and clean the house. Now, the Sims 2 Pet expansion pack — which adds new features to Sims 2 — lets kids' Sims adopt pets of their own. Take in stray cats or dogs or employ an adoption service; or even design your own breed of animal. It's fun watching the Sims frolic with their pets, cuddle them, teach them, and even get mad at them. But, just like in real life, caring for a pet is work: A neglected and untrained pet will shred the furniture — or worse. (T for Teen, so 13 and up; rude humor, suggestive themes; PlayStation2, GameCube™, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PSP, and as a PC expansion pack; $30-$40 depending on platform; Electronic Arts; thesims2.ea.com/pets/.)
Why you'll like it: Harmless, creative, and fun, The Sims 2 Pet also teaches lessons about responsibility, since these pets need care and training much like actual animals do.
Genre #3: Act Like a Hero
Your child is the main character in an adventure that unfolds as she travels through the landscape.
The game: Sid Meier's Pirates!
Why it's fun: A player's family is taken from home and sold into slavery, but she manages to escape — and vows to win back their freedom. Take to the seven seas with the goal of becoming a famous pirate and garnering enough riches to be free of tyranny. Along the way, look for clues, find romance, engage in naval battles, hire new pirate crews, outfit your ship, encounter famous pirates, and navigate the oceans — and ports — of the day. (Rated E for everyone; PC, and rated T of teen on XBox; $50; 2K Games; 2kgames.com/pirates.)
Why you'll like it: A fairly accurate depiction of life in the 17th century — and the role of pirates in history — Sid Meier's Pirates! also hones map skills and requires considerable reading.