During the school year, my 12-year-old has little time to play computer games. But the summer offers an abundance of unscheduled hours and...

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During the school year, my 12-year-old has little time to play computer games. But the summer offers an abundance of unscheduled hours and no homework.

So when there’s nothing planned, this preteen likes to play interactive video games that make her think and are fun. I mean really fun — not math practice disguised as fun, but games that empower her to create neighborhoods with people and pets, for example, or a city zoo.

This summer, she’s been playing a few you might want to know about if you have an adolescent with free time, a PC and your permission to indulge in nonviolent simulation and role-playing games.

The game that jump-started my daughter’s virtual play and inspired her to try others is Microsoft “Zoo Tycoon 2” ($30, Windows only, rated E for Everyone). In this simulation game, she creates her own zoo, complete with exhibit areas, wild animals, zookeepers and more.

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It’s also her job to manage the zoo and keep everyone happy — including the visitors, employees and even the animals. She says it’s hard to keep guests happy because they expect bathrooms, benches, food, playgrounds and shops on every corner, while animals just need to be comfortable and well fed.

With some effort, she has managed to keep her zoo going and strangely enough, there are now 50 happy visitors who have paid $50 admission to see the zoo’s 10 animals. Go figure.

Other simulation games capturing her imagination this summer are three of The Sims games: “The Sims” ($40), “The Sims Unleashed Expansion Pack” ($20) and “The Sims 2” ($50). All are rated T for teens and are made for PC and game consoles.

First, my daughter installs “The Sims,” takes the tutorial and creates the character Lisa Snert. Lisa needs a house, so with the $20,000 allotted, my daughter chooses a midprice home for $12,000, then has to furnish it and buy food.

The money runs out soon, and Lisa needs a job. She starts at $120 a day. To get promoted with a raise, she has to show up and be in good spirits. Reportedly, she’ll be fired if she misses two consecutive days of work, and promotions are based on whether she maintains a positive mood.

To keep Lisa happy, my daughter has to make her comfortable with expensive furniture, including fancy bathroom facilities, a large bedroom with artwork, plasma-screen TV, and fridge filled with gourmet food.

The biggest problem turns out to be scrounging enough money to keep Lisa happy in the lifestyle she desires; otherwise, she’s grumpy, late, careless and loses her job.

So my daughter is delighted when a friend shows her a cheat to get almost unlimited funds. Now Lisa lives in a mansion enjoying a life of luxury. Hmm.

In “The Sims Unleashed,” the player manages a whole neighborhood of Sims with pets. My daughter likes giving her Sims pets but hasn’t found a way to do much more than feed and pat them.

“The Sims 2” is the latest and most capable Sims game featuring 3-D graphics and characters with more facial expressions and bodily gestures. The player can create Sims with particular physical and personality traits, pick their wardrobes and design their houses.

These Sims have lifetime ambitions, wants and fears, and the player helps them reach, or not reach, their goals. Characters in this game grow up, marry and have children that inherit some of their parents’ traits.

My daughter likes this Sims game best because she enjoys designing houses and creating characters and dealing with their wants and fears. She says the jobs pay better but wishes she had this game’s cheat to provide a bottomless bank account.

Overall, she would rather the Sims didn’t require such detailed maintenance. By comparison, in “Zoo Tycoon” people and animals eat, sleep, and generally take care of themselves if they have what they need, while Sims characters usually need to be told to take showers, eat meals, go to the bathroom, to bed and other details.

Besides these simulation games, my tester has been trying a few other adventure and role-playing games, including “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup.” These seem right for this summer, because we (and so many others) are reading the latest, “Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.”

It turns out my adolescent isn’t interested in role-playing games that involve running after and running away from enemies, fighting battles and other adventures that many players love. So, although the Harry Potter games don’t appeal to my child, they might be right for yours.

The latest game in the Nancy Drew mystery series just arrived, “Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock” ($20, Windows only), and since my daughter enjoys solving mysteries, I think she’ll have fun with this one.

With a few weeks of summer still to go, maybe your adolescent would enjoy playing some of these games, too.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com;

to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted