Three computer games that manage to be popular without being violent are Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2000 and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2000, published in various formats by Hasbro and Infogrames, and the latest sim, Sim People House Party, from Electronic Arts.
Flight Simulator 2000 (pound;39.99) is what it sounds like: a simulation game that allows you to pilot all sorts of aircraft from one destination to another. You can control your plane using the keyboard, but a joystick makes for smoother take-off and landing. As you would expect from Microsoft, the program is packed with information: you can even download the current real world weather conditions for your flight path. Microsoft also runs a Flight Simulator 2000 website with news, tips, articles and links to other simulation and aviation sites.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 2000 (pound;19.99) is published by Hasbro but the toy company has sold the rights to previous editions to Infogrames which offers a compilation set of the original game with two add-on packs for the bargain price of pound;14.99. Rollercoaster challenges you to build a theme park. The worst scenario is when visitors go straight from a fast food restaurant to the loopiest rollercoaster and are promptly sick: resolving this sort of sticky storyline is all in the planning.
The game entails plenty of reading and decision-making. It also provides endless hours of entertainment for children aged eight and over.
Sim People House Party is the latest expansion pack for Electronic Arts's phenomenally successful strategy game: you will require a full copy of The Sims installed on your PC to use the add-on House Party (pound;39.99 for both games, pound;19.99 for the House Party add-on). For those yet to discover it, The Sims is an addictive strategy game, played by millions, in which you manage households in a neighbourhood. Your task is to make sure the people living in your locality eat and sleep well, get up in the morning and go to work, make friends, develop skills and so on.
What House Party adds is the ability to throw a party. Surprisingly, you start a party by phoning people or inviting them in off the street, not emailing. Whether or not your party goes well depends in part on having enough cash to provide caterers, a good disco and so on, so you have to balance socialising with being fit enough in the morning to go out to work to earn some money. As with any computer game, there is a cheat option since aficionados of the game from around the world give novices a flying start by posting extraordinary neighbourhoods on the Electronic Arts website for all to download.
Simulation games are a good option for children aged eight and over, but younger children often prefer a program that adds activities away from the screen. The delightful Glub the Sub's Watery Activity Fun Pack (pound;24.99) from The Worm That Turned does just this. Glub is a yellow submarine that takes children through interactive games based on number and letter recognition. Games include dot-to-dot pictures, jigsaw puzzles and colouring exercises as well as a couple of stories. The print facility adds a one to 10 number frieze and an alphabet. Activity sheets with ideas for things to do away from the computer are included with the CD.
Giving children a recommendation for summer surfing is like trying to suggest where they should go on holiday. One answer is to advise their parents to sign up with Blue Web'n, a weekly service that sends you several recommended sites each week by email. Just clicking on the links in the email takes you to that site. The user-friendly service is run by Knowledge Network at California's Pacific Bell University. As well as the email update, the site has a searchable database of more than 1,000 outstanding internet learning sites categorised by subject area, audience and type (lessons, activities, projects, resources, references, and tools). Visit www.kn.pacbell.comwiredbluewebn to sign up.
All games are available from major stores such as Electronic Boutique and WH Smith. Electronic Arts is on www.uk.ea.comContact The Worm That Turned on 01509 880794, or visit the website at www.worm.co.uk to order Glub the Sub, which is also available from Hamleys and John Lewis Partnership stores