WASHINGTON Jesse Lackman says his son spends a dozen hours a week waging medieval combat across the dreary dreamscapes of computer games. Just don't expect to find Lackman sitting beside him battling ogres and dragons.
"It's just such a waste of time," said Lackman, 47, a power plant operator from Center, N.D. "I tell him, 'Do something that has some lasting value.'"
Lackman's avoidance of the digital diversions that captivate his 15-year-old son, Tyrus, is shared by many parents. More than four in 10, or 43 percent, of those whose young children play video or computer games never play along with them, according to an Associated Press-AOL Games poll released Monday.
While experts debate whether electronic gaming is bad news or a blessing for children and their families, many parents are voicing their preference by never or seldom joining their kids when it's time to slay cyber scoundrels.
Besides those who simply don't play the games with their children, another 30 percent say they spend less than an hour a week doing so. All told, about three in four parents of young gamers never or hardly ever touch the stuff.
"I don't think it's good for them, the violence, the obsession," said Karen Kimball, 55, of Hale, Minn., another nonplayer who estimates her 17-year-old son plays 25 hours weekly. "No longer is it, 'Let's go out and throw a football.'"
Those who game with their children are likelier to be younger, single and part-time workers than those who don't, the poll showed.
Among them is stay-at-home dad Marvin Paup, 33, of Golden Valley, Ariz., who says he plays 30 hours a week with his son and dozens more on his own.
Their current favorite is "Halo 3," a shooter game played online by thousands of players at a time. His state-of-the-art equipment includes an Xbox 360 console, surround-sound turned up "really, really loud" and a 65-inch wide-screen television, he said.
"That game has bonded me with him," he said of his 10-year-old son Allen. "It's like a whole new reality with me and him."
Overall, the survey highlighted how pervasive yet age-related interest in electronic gaming is today.
According to the poll, in which only adults were questioned, 81 percent of children age 4 to 17 play computer or video games at least occasionally, compared with 38 percent of adults. Typically, both adult and child gamers play two hours weekly half play more and half less including about three in 10 who play five hours or more each week.
Reflecting the technology's relatively recent introduction, 59 percent of those age 18 to 29 play at least sometimes, double the rate for people age 50 to 64. There is little difference among users by race or region, with middle-income earners likeliest to indulge.
"It's something to take your mind off business and everything else," said Todd Williams, 33, a salesman from Lexington, Ky., who estimates he plays 10 hours weekly, especially interactive adventure games. "I guess it's the time, which is seldom, that I spend alone."
Sales of games and gaming hardware are rising steadily, said David Riley, marketing director of the NPD Group, a market research firm. He estimates that video and computer game sales this year will total $19 billion in the U.S., up from $13.5 billion last year.
Even so and despite the publicity given to newer game consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 the proportion of adults saying they play electronic games was virtually unchanged from April 2006, when an AP-AOL poll asked the same question.
Casual games like card or board games were the favorite of 31 percent of gamers, about twice the number who like action games, the next most popular alternative. About half of women cited casual games as their favorites, triple the number of men who did so, while twice as many males than females preferred action games.
Adventure, strategy and sports games were also among the most popular.
The poll also found that among gamers:
44 percent said they play over the Internet;
26 percent said they spent nothing on the pastime last year, another 46 percent spent up to $200 and 12 percent spent $500 or more, with men usually the bigger spenders;
Price is the chief factor for people purchasing a gaming console, followed by the availability of games.
The poll involved telephone interviews with 2,016 adults conducted Oct. 9-11 and 16-18, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. Included were 770 people who said they play computer or video games, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.5 points.