Cory and Aaron Dean are in video-game heaven. The Lanham boys are clutching the bars of their side-by-side Jet Skis as they concentrate on their virtual racecourse. Six-year-old Aaron's head barely rises above the realistic handles in the state-of-the art video game at Dave & Buster's, an expansive arcade. Yet he and Cory, 9, show precocious proficiency in a game that nearby grown-ups find challenging.
"They are true-video game aficionados," their dad, Reginald Dean, says with a laugh. "They are the masters of dozens of games on their PlayStation."
But they also both brought home straight-A report cards - an achievement that won them this trip to the massive restaurant and arcade north of the Beltway on Rockville Pike.
Unlike many educators and parents who view video games and educational success as mutually exclusive, Mr. Dean believes the two are strongly linked - and so do a growing number of parenting and computer experts.
Although the value - or danger - of video games is still open for debate, their popularity is undeniable. The NPD Group, a research company in Port Washington, N.Y., that tracks the toy industry, says video games have risen from sales of $1.6 billion in 1996 to more than $3 billion in 1998. This year, the group estimates, that figure easily could top $6 billion.
As technology rapidly adds ever-realistic graphics, the games' appeal extends well beyond the originally targeted middle school children, with an increasing amount of the market going to older teens and adults. But at the Dean home, Cory and Aaron began playing "as soon as they could hold the controller," their dad says.
"I get a lot of flak from family and friends about letting my boys play video games," he says. "But I attribute their good reading abilities to their love of video games."
Cory pores through pages of magazines, reading about his favorite …