This is sort of off-topic but it involves computers so you WILL allow me the latitude.

The secret to creating fantastically addictive games? Never stop playing with dolls.

I'm a big fan of open-ended games. In this arena, Sid Meier is a near-deity to me and has been for almost twenty years when I first loaded up Pirates! for the Amiga (and didja know that when you upgraded your RAM from 512kb to 1Mb, the clouds got shadows!!!). I was also addicted to Railroad Tycoon, then Civilization, then to a lesser extent, Colonization.

But the point of this isn't a Sid Meier love-in. I'm also a fan of The Sims, Sim City, and most games ending in Tycoon. In short, games with no ending. Games I can quit playing at any time without feeling obligated to fight "just one more level".

And the makers of these games are missing out on a pretty good-sized niche market: five- to ten-year-old girls. That is, if my daughter is any indication.

Syd (my daughter, not Sid Meier) is seriously addicted to the new version of Pirates! I mean like crack-addicted to it. Every night before we go to bed, she says her prayers:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord much gold to reap
If I should die before I wake
Scatter my ashes on the Spanish Main

And so on and so forth.

This isn't the first time either. At five years old, it was Zoo Tycoon. At six, The Sims 2. Now at seven, she's got a taste of the sea in her for the time being (until I show her Civ IV).

Beneath this innocent smile lay the iron will of a gamer

The problem with these games is that they are nigh-impossible for a seven-year-old to play, even on the easiest levels. Syd's zoos in Zoo Tycoon invariably ended up as a creature commune with animals sharing living accommodations, food, and presumably, conjugal relations. Her Sims would shop until they inevitably wet themselves then fell asleep in their own virtual urine. As for Pirates, let's just say she's the only person in her class that can fully conjugate the word "mutiny".

What these games need is a mode where nothing bad can happen. Animals can't storm the cage walls, Sims lose the desire or need to eat (but will still do it when prompted), and 18th century pirates can go for months on end without getting paid while their captain tries to marry the governor's daughter.

In short, they need a mode that doesn't require daddy to clean up at regular intervals. The thing is, Syd loves Pirates but she doesn't want to get captured. Which means every five to ten minutes, I get a call that I need to perform an emergency swordfight. Or I need to help her buy new furniture for a virtual house. Or I need to corral the animals away from the Slurpee machines.

And it's not that I don't want to play these games with her. Jayzus knows I love to sack French towns as much as the next guy. And there's nothing like bonding over how much to spend on pooper scoopers. But I work from home and school lets out at 3:00 if you know what I mean.

The other thing is: these games are actually really good for kids of her age. Zoo Tycoon is an easy one to defend. It's a &*$% zoo for chrissakes. Plus you'll be amazed at how well something like "Don't forget to take the garbage out like you do in The Sims" works. And Pirates is one big geography lesson waiting to happen.

So note to gamemakers. Yes, you're average 16-year-old will find it boring but consider a "crippled" mode in your games. Here's a tip to justify it: 7-year-old girls don't want to win. They just want to play.