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Parenting's Video Game Cheat Sheet

Don't know your Wii from your PS3? Don't sweat it. We've compiled this guide to help you choose the right video game system, decipher game ratings, and get your entire family involved.

Who knows? After reading this guide, you just might find yourself playing and enjoying video games as much as your kids do!

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Playstation PS3

Cost: $499

Size: 12.8 x 10.8 x 3.9 inches

Best for: Teens; hard-core gamers

Features: The PS3 is a total entertainment system. Listen to music or view photos and videos. You can also watch movies and go online if you already have broadband internet at home.

Cool factor: The SIXAXIS wireless controller with a sensitive motion sensing system brings gaming to another level, as players can move with the game by moving the controller.

What moms will love: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock allows mom to perform like her favorite rock stars, including the Rolling Stones and the Beastie Boys.

What dads will love: Dads can pretend to be their favorite NBA players, making slam-dunks and three-pointers in NBA Live.

Why your kid wants it: Impressive high quality graphics bring gaming to a new level. Kids will feel like professional race car drivers playing MotorStorm, as they see every detail of cars and crashes while getting pumped up listening to rock music.

Cool game for the whole family: SingStar lets you sing along to your favorite songs and battle to see who the real songbird is in your family.

Parental Controls: Program settings into children's sub accounts. You can also restrict chat with other gamers, choose what games kids can play based on their age and age-appropriate content. Restrict younger children from buying games online by setting limits on the amount of points they have. Older children and other members of the family can bypass restrictions with a PIN.

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Nintendo Wii

Cost: $349.95

Size: 8.5 x 6 x 2 inches

Best for: 6 and up; active types

Features: Wii's Remote Controllers are wireless and multifunctional, acting as tennis rackets, steering wheels, and other accessories during a game. The system can connect wirelessly to the internet, where different Wii Channels offer news and weather information.

Cool factor: Each gamer can create and customize his or her own Mii caricature for a personalized game playing experience.

What moms will love: Challenging their brains or battling other brains with Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree, which has games to test your memory and quick thinking.

What dads will love: Playing Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. An old-school fighting game gets a new twist, with new and special moves using the Wii remote controllers.

Why your kid wants it: The cool remote controllers act as the accessories in a game, putting the player directly in the game. Even non-jocks can feel like athletic champs with Wii's uncomplicated physical games.

Cool game for the whole family: Wii Sports lets up to 4 people play bowling, baseball, golf, boxing, and tennis, with the remote controllers acting as the ball, racket, bat, club, or your left hook.

Parental Controls: You can choose which games children can play based on ESRB ratings, set PIN codes to protect or bypass controls, change internet browser settings, turn messaging on and off, and control the use of points for downloads.

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Microsoft Xbox 360

Cost: $349.99

Size: 3.3 x 12.2 x 10.2 inches

Best for: 6 and up; serious gamers

Features: Aside from playing games, the Xbox 360 can also play music, videos, and photos. With XBox Live, players can connect to the internet and interact with others, as well as preview and purchase games.

Cool factor: game playing is personalized to suit different moods and personalities, from changeable faceplates for your console to different "themes" on the screen when you turn on the system .

What moms will love: Let loose and show off your dance moves (even if you have two left feet) in Dance Dance Revolution Universe.

What dads will love: Fighting to save the world in Halo 3. Dads can play with other dads, using cool weapons in the final part of this popular trilogy game.

Why your kid wants it: the Xbox 360 has a sleek and stylish design (from the boxy original version) and high-definition visuals that bring games to life.

Cool game for the whole family: Viva Pinata invites the whole family to go wild with their imaginations and create their own world of colorful Pinata animals on Pinata island .

Parental Controls: Xbox family settings allow you to choose what games kids can play based on ESRB ratings. Control with whom kids interact online: you can approve your child's friends, block strangers from communicating with your child, and control what kind of content he can download. Online pass codes are available to users so that individual profiles are protected; a family pass code prevents kids from altering family settings.

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Personal Computers

Cost: starting at $250

Features: You and your kids can use a computer for other than gaming, such as homework. You can email, surf the internet, and use Microsoft Office for Word documents and spreadsheets.

Best for: Ages 10 and up, Techies

Cool factor: Educational games are available for younger kids (2 and up) so that math and reading are extra fun!

What moms will love: The Sims 2: Bon Voyage  -- go to the vacation spot of your dreams without hurting your wallet! Check into a hotel of your choice and visit ancient ruins or go shopping, all in front of your computer.

What dads will love: Dads can drive through desert roads in sleek cars and race with other drivers in DiRT .

Why your kid wants it: Kids can go online and interact with their friends, as well as download free games.

Cool game for the whole family: Unleash your creative side. Build machines and robots in your own virtual lab in Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game.

Parental controls: PCs alone don't offer much by way of content control. For tips on keeping your child safe on the PC, read the 6 Rules for Internet Safety.

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Before You Buy

Before purchasing video games, keep these important tips in mind:

Check the ratings on the box.
Be sure to check both the front of the box for the rating symbol that suggests the appropriate age for the game and the back of the box for the content descriptors that specify elements in a game that could be of particular concern or could have triggered a particular rating.

Set boundaries.
Gamespot.com's editorial director, Ricardo Torres offers this advice: "If you get a child a game system and it comes with guidelines, you have the opportunity to start teaching them about discipline and responsibility."

Make sure other responsibilities such as homework and chores are done before allowing your child to play for a set length of time.

Get involved
Show interest in what your kids are doing and play with them. "It's a great way to learn more about the games they are playing and to experience the virtual worlds that he or she enjoys visiting," says ESRB President Patricia Vance. "Not to mention it's a lot of fun!"

Games can be great learning tools.
Kristin Brandt of Manicmommies.com uses video games to improve her 5-year-old son's reading skills. "When Anders captures a Pokemon, he and I talk about what to name the character and he has to recite the letters that make up the name," Brandt said.

Playing games can also teach children how to handle losing. "I have found that playing video games and being beaten by his mom or dad is helping him learn to manage the disappointment of losing," she added.

The whole family can join the fun.
New video game systems are making games more accessible and easier to learn. Game titles with multiplayer capabilities or a performance aspect can let everyone get involved. Torres recommends titles such as Guitar Hero, Mario Party, Singstar, Wii Sports, and Wii Play.

Don't be afraid to have fun with video games. "They can be a really fun way to spend time together as a family, or after the kids have gone to bed, as a couple." Brandt adds. "Or, when I'm hanging out by myself, to pretend I'm a kid again."

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