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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Online Gaming



More and more of what you used to do on a computer is now happening on the Internet: why should gaming be any exception? So it's no surprise that the fastest growing (and evolving) area of the gaming marketplace is online gaming.

Elsewhere, we talk about the millions of people who are playing "massively multiplayer online games"- like World of Warcraft, which has 11 million members. Over the past few years, they've been joined by subscription platforms that connect their users with hundreds of games and millions of players.

The exemplar is Microsoft's Xbox Live, which works with the company's Xbox game consoles. You can use Xbox Live to play online with other players; to download trial versions of new games; and to actually buy full games you can download and start playing immediately (assuming you have a broadband Internet connection.) You can even buy high-def movies and TV shows to display on whatever TV set your Xbox is connected to. Though there's a free version, Xbox Live's most exciting services require a paid subscription ("Xbox Live Gold.") That's currently $59.99 per year, or $24.99 for three months, though you can find it for less at Amazon.com and other online sources. (Microsoft will give you a free month's trial, but if you decide to cancel after that, your kids may be mightily displeased.)

If you have a PlayStation, you can get free access to a somewhat smaller collection of games and services at Sony's PLAYSTATION Network. At the moment, Nintendo's Wii has disappointingly few online capabilities, though some Wii games (like the new Super Smash Bros. Brawl) do provide some online capabilities of their own.

Console platforms are only one of the ways you can play online. If you use a PC - or even a cellphone - a fast-growing number of free "casual gaming" sites exist to serve your every gaming whim. Among the biggest and most reliable: MSN Games, Yahoo! Games, and Shockwave, and Real Arcade. One alternative, specifically designed for young children, is Disney's online virtual world, Club Penguin. Most of these sites are supported by advertising, though their business models vary: for instance, on iWON, you can collect tokens by winning games, then use those tokens as entries for the site's sweepstakes prizes.

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