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Video Games Come Alive

Parents have been skeptical of video games. Caught between kids' love of them and their own fears about couch potato play, they've mostly fallen into uneasy acceptance. The result: Nearly a third of children age 6 and under have played video games (14 percent of kids age 3 and under and 50 percent of 4- to 6-year-olds).

But the way kids play video games is being turned on its head. Rather than simply offering exercise for only the thumb and wrist, and targets for shooting or jumping over, some new games demand actual physical interaction.

This transformation comes mostly as a result of new "input devices," or, to put it more simply, alternatives to the joystick. A small camera mounted on your TV can put your child in a video game, which she then plays with her entire body. Dance on a special mat, and your moves are converted to the action on the screen. A drum attached to the video-game console turns a simple game into an exercise in rhythm.

Not only parents but educators and doctors are taking notice. "I used to think video games were bad and sedentary," says Ernie Medina, a preventive-care specialist in Redlands, California. "But these new ones can get kids in shape." He's started using some of these games at his clinic to help obese children lose weight. Last fall, he persuaded his local school district to add them to elementary school physical-education classes.

While most children's video games are geared to grade-schoolers and up, these new devices and the games that go with them can appeal to preschoolers, too, particularly if parents are there to help. But are these new toys any good, or are they just the same old shoot-'em-up games with a different name?

None of these are must-haves; kids are still better off playing real soccer than virtual. But if you have a compatible system already or are planning to buy one, these four games may be worth a closer look: