Video games have developed something of a bad reputation in recent years, mostly for excessive violence. While certain critics tend to overstate the case wildly, the fact remains that the game industry does itself no favors with gore-filled trash like Rockstar's recent Manhunt 2.

So, as the holidays draw near, it warms the heart to learn of gamers who are giving back to others.

My favorite local example involves Stefanie Doctor Shea, a Bucks County woman whose husband, Michael, will spend Christmas in Iraq, where he is a U.S. Army sergeant on his second tour of duty. Before Michael was deployed, he and Stefanie spent many hours enjoying their Nintendo Wii console at Fort Campbell, Ky. That gave Stefanie an idea: Why not send video games and systems to U.S. military personnel overseas?

So Stefanie and a friend started Fun for Our Troops (

» READ MORE: http://fun

forourtroops.chipin.com/fun-for-our-troops) and donations haven't stopped flowing in.

Child's Play (

), a charity started by the founders of the popular game-oriented Web comic Penny Arcade, supplies toys and games to young patients in more than 40 children's hospitals around the world. The Get-well Gamers Foundation (

» READ MORE: http://www.get-well-gam

ers.org/) does similar good work on a somewhat smaller scale.

Two of the more unusual gamer-centric charities are Desert Bus for Hope and Stanford University's

» READ MORE: Folding@Home

Project. For the former, an Internet comedy troupe known as LoadingReadyRun committed to playing Desert Bus, an unreleased simulation of driving a bus through a featureless desert landscape. Boring? Incredibly so. But the unusual marathon raised more than $22,000 for charity and the group is still accepting donations at its Web site (

» READ MORE: http://desertbus.org

).

» READ MORE: Folding@Home

(

» READ MORE: http://fold

ing.stanford.edu) combines gaming, geekiness and giving in a novel approach to fighting disease - but you'll need a PC or PlayStation 3 to participate. Researchers at Stanford University are employing the distributed processing power donated by thousands of system owners who allow the

» READ MORE: Folding@Home

project to run calculations on their Internet-connected machines. The data are used in the study of diseases related to protein-folding, such as Alzheimer's and Type-2 diabetes. So when you're not gaming, why not leave your PS3 or PC switched on and working for the common good?

I'll use the little remaining space I have left today to answer that most vexing of questions: What to get Dad for the holidays? Hint: It's neither a tie nor a fruitcake. In order to answer this question, however, it's important to first determine what kind of dad you are buying for.

Brainy Dad? Grab Chessmaster (PC, $40, DS $30). It's the ultimate in virtual chess play and includes a tutorial from champion player Josh Waitzkin. Once Dad has sufficiently skilled up, he can challenge other players online.

Sports Nut Dad? Try Madden NFL 08 (about $50, many systems); NCAA 08 March Madness (Xbox 360, PS3 $50, PS2 $30) or NHL 08 (360, PS3 $60, PC $40, PS2 $30).

Strategy-Minded Dad? He'll love Empires in Arms, the challenging grand strategy game set in Europe during the era of Napoleon. It's available only from Matrix Games (

) (PC $60).