Family Game Night, Version 2.0

Felicia Flaherty, 12, rocks out with Guitar Hero. Kari Barrett watches at a game night for families and neighbors at Genevieve Woche's.
Felicia Flaherty, 12, rocks out with Guitar Hero. Kari Barrett watches at a game night for families and neighbors at Genevieve Woche's. (Photos By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Video games in Genevieve Woche's household used to be strictly kids-only. The adults weren't invited, and they probably weren't interested anyway. These days, it's a family affair.

On a recent weeknight, kids from the Rockville neighborhood piled into the family's living room, dancing and taking turns playing a guitar game plugged into the PlayStation. Some took turns at Dance Dance Revolution in another room. While Genevieve's daughters, Emily and Laura, played against each other on the toy guitars, their mom kept singing the words to the game' s Van Halen and Cheap Trick songs, over the girls' protests.

Genevieve, a real estate agent, grew up in this house. In the '70s, she played Monopoly, Scrabble or Risk in these rooms. But these days, the board games stay in the closet, and Genevieve says she doesn't miss them.

Video games get a bad rap for their addictive and sometimes isolating properties, but for Genevieve's clan, they are the catalyst for a raucous family evening like this about every week or so.

"These are the songs I loved when I was growing up," she said. "I like playing it, but it's just as fun to watch someone else if you're not the one playing."

This type of thing -- parents and kids playing together -- started, to some extent, when the first generation of gamers got older and had kids who are now old enough to play games. But, as some more active types of games have been catching on, they're also bringing in a lot of new fans who never cared for the things before.

Shawn Hirsch, a dad in Gaithersburg, said he always thought of himself as an "anti-video-game guy" until he saw Nintendo's new Wii system, the one that has players on their feet and swinging their arms to play.

Now he's spending time with his daughters, playing video game versions of tennis and bowling with his 7-year-old daughter almost every night after dinner. She now knows just about everything about the two sports, though she got a bit of a surprise when they went to a bowling alley and found that it wasn't quite as easy to play in the real world.

Hirsch said he has started to keep track of promising-looking new releases for the system. He'd much rather see one of his kids playing with the Wii than watching TV "on the couch like a potato."

At the moment, my fiancee's kid and I are both hooked, potato-like, on the Xbox 360 version of a game called Lego Star Wars II. We're playing in what's called "cooperative" mode, meaning that we have to work together to make progress.

I don't have much interest in Thomas the Tank Engine, so I don't know whether we could have built the same bond we have in any other way. Even his mom and dad don't always get the scoop on the stuff I hear about when we play together -- what happened today in school, or whatever. And best of all, at 6, he's young enough that he still thinks it's better to be Luke Skywalker than Han Solo. So it's working out pretty well for me.

This sort of bonding seems to be happening even with slightly older kids and their parents, too.

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