INTERVIEWS with those who study the effects of video games reveal these themes: Deciding the games' inherent worth must take into account the number of hours played per week.
It also must consider the violent, aggressive, or educational themes of the particular games played; the attitude of parents or guardians in controlling the use of games; and the balancing of game use with other pursuits: family chores, reading, sports, homework, family time.
Here are some comments:
``Video games have been primarily violence-themed for many years,'' says Thomas Radecki, research director for the National Coalition for Television Violence.
In a coalition study released this year, 71 percent of current video games licensed by Nintendo are high in violence and harmful for children, it says.
Only 20 percent were considered suitable.
``The research is overwhelming that the more you have an individual rehearse themes of murder and mayhem, that the player cannot help learning those ways of thinking and acting,'' explains Dr. Radecki.
The National Coalition has been lobbying government to appoint an unbiased panel of experts to investigate the research on video games done to date and to fund additional studies, if needed. If the panel concludes there is evidence of harm, the coalition asks that warning labels be placed on all toys and games with violent themes.
``Though it may be intuitively reasonable that the violence of these games is harmful, there has been no convincing research to substantiate this,'' says Geoffrey Loftus, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington and author of ``Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games.''
Mr. Loftus finds a host of benefits in video game playing: the building of computer literacy - helping kids be comfortable with keyboards, programs, spread sheets, and computer sticks.
``Half the adults I know are queasy and uncomfortable with computers, but the kids who play video games are fearless,'' says Loftus.
Loftus also counters the charge that video games are addictive to kids. ``They are no more unable to free themselves from these games as kids in the past were `addicted' to baseball, marbles, or ghost stories,'' he says.
He adds that the games are neither inherently anti- or pro-social nor conducive to dangerous fantasy: ``When you read a book, you have to create the entire world of the book in your mind - yet nobody criticizes children for staring at a page with abstract little markings.''
``It would be nice if parents could steer their kids away from video games with sexist and violent content,'' says Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Ms. Greenfield quotes content analysis studies showing the overwhelming majority of video games depict men in the active roles - slaying dragons, driving cars - and females in passive roles such as rescued maidens.
``In the world of video games, girls are second-class citizens,'' adds Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television.
``Video games go one step worse than the violence on television because they ask the player to use his own hand to create violence,'' says Carole Lieberman, a media consultant who has studied effects of video games at UCLA.
She also notes the fact that the US Army has used Nintendo games to prepare soldiers for actual combat situations.
``When a kid plays a violent game, he is getting trained to pull the trigger,'' she says.
``Why not choose [a game] without the mayhem?''