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Are you the parent, aunt, uncle, or guardian of a child who’s interested in video games? That can be a precarious situation to be in, especially if you aren’t a big gamer yourself. There’s so much sex and violence in games today – even in games that aren’t marked M for Mature – that it can be difficult knowing which games are suitable for young children. But rest assured, suitable games do exist!

Here are the criteria I would use to determine whether or not a video game is appropriate for a child:

  • Maturity: I’m not one who would support the ban of sex, violence, and profanity in video games, but I think it’s reasonable to avoid such content when deciding which video games a child should be allowed to play.
  • Complexity: A game that’s overly complex isn’t very good for young children, mostly because the game mechanics might be too tough to grasp, resulting in frustration. Then again, a game that’s overly simple ends up being passive entertainment, which isn’t exactly healthy for a developing mind.
  • Imagination: Video games that exercise the player’s imagination are great for young children. It encourages them to think, to wonder, and to look at circumstances from various perspectives.

Minecraft

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If there was ever a perfect game for toddlers, it would have to be Minecraft. There is no contest here. How many millions of children find themselves entranced by the wonders of LEGO? Well, Minecraft is like a digital LEGO world, allowing kids (and adults!) to build grand worlds from basic building blocks and live out an imaginary life in a fictional world that feels real.

  • Maturity: Minecraft is for everyone. There are monsters in the game if you play in Survival mode (which can be disabled), but the monsters aren’t gruesome. There’s no gore, there’s no sex, and the violence is extremely light.
  • Complexity: I love Minecraft because its complexity scales with the player. The game is as easy to learn as any other game – you gather blocks, build creations, and survive. As the player learns more about the game, it can be made tougher with advanced features and mods.
  • Imagination: There are few games as immersive as Minecraft. It’s been years since I’ve played a game that made me feel as if I’d stepped through a wardrobe into Narnia. The graphics are primitive, but that just means more fuel for the imagination. Children will love this game.

As a bonus, Minecraft does have a multiplayer mode, which means you can play with your child in the same world if you want. Not only is the game kid-friendly, but it allows you to develop a bond as you play! Check out our newbie’s introduction to Minecraft A Latecomer’s Introduction To Minecraft [MUO Gaming] A Latecomer’s Introduction To Minecraft [MUO Gaming] Minecraft, the block-based sensation that took gaming by storm, is now well over three years old. It’s almost hard to believe it’s been that long since the first alpha was posted – and it’s equally... Read More .

Portal

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Portal is a wonderful game for children and adults alike. It’s a first-person puzzle game that utilizes gravity and special awareness as answers to various challenges. As one of the most highly acclaimed games in the past ten years, Portal deserves every gamer’s attention for its gameplay, story, humor, and fun factor.

  • Maturity: There’s a little bit of violence in Portal as there are small turrets that will shoot at you if you enter their vision. However, it’s no worse than, say, a Mario game with deadly turtles. The environments can get a bit scary for really young kids, otherwise the game is great. No sex or gore.
  • Complexity: This might be a point of division such that kids who are too young may not fully enjoy Portal. Since Portal is a puzzle game primarily aimed at adults, some children may find the latter puzzles a bit too hard to solve. The gameplay itself, however, is straightforward and easy to learn.
  • Imagination: There might not be much in terms of visual imagination here, but Portal surely forces you to think in ways that you haven’t really done before. Due to the nature of portals and gravity, your ability to think outside of the box will be tested quite thoroughly by the end.

And when you’ve completed both Portal and Portal 2, why not check out some great puzzle alternatives 3 Great Alternatives To Portal 2 When You've Finished Playing It 3 Great Alternatives To Portal 2 When You've Finished Playing It I love Valve, and I love Portal 2. It's easily among the best game I’ve ever played. But it’s also a short game. After eight hours, the game was done with me, but I wasn’t... Read More afterwards?

The Sims

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The Sims didn’t exist during my childhood, but I did play many of the precursor games like Sim Ant and Sim Tower 5 Sims That Really Deserve a Sequel Now 5 Sims That Really Deserve a Sequel Now While you bounced plumbers around collecting coins, I was constructing glorious empires, establishing global trade networks and wrangling with the world of corporate financing. Read More . The games in the Sim series are wonderful for kids because they’re all partly educational. Yes, there’s a lot of gameplay and fun, but the fact that these games are simulations means your toddlers won’t be melting their brains into mush.

  • Maturity: Children probably won’t be able to experience the full greatness of The Sims since there are a lot of adult concepts, such as the allocation of aspirations, careers, skills, etc. However, the game is still fun, and there is no mature content apart from certain mods. There is, however, blurred out sex scenes, but these do not happen automatically.
  • Complexity: There’s a good deal of complexity to the gameplay of The Sims, but the basics are easy to learn. Even a young child can learn the meaning of the interface buttons and building a house is fun even if you don’t know how to optimize it.
  • Imagination: I think The Sims is a great catalyst for imagination. There’s a lot of creative thought that goes into designing the home and picking various aspects of the characters’ lives.

Plants Vs. Zombies

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For a more casual game that young children can enjoy, Plants Vs. Zombies is a great choice. The game is simple and fun and available on a wide range of platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, PSN, Xbox Arcade, and many more. Lots of replayability make this game a good bang-for-your-buck purchase.

  • Maturity: The game centers on the concept of plants defending themselves against a zombie invasion, so there’s a bit of violence there, but it’s the kind of violence you’d see on a Saturday morning cartoon. Nothing to worry about. No sex, gore, or harsh language.
  • Complexity: Plants Vs. Zombies is essentially a tower defense game: you place down plants, and each plant behaves in a certain way. Zombies spawn and walk towards the plants. It’s really simple. The fun of the game comes from the strategic selection and placement of plants, but children will be able to get a hold of it easily.
  • Imagination: There isn’t much imagination involved, but as mentioned above, there’s a good amount of strategy which is good for a developing child’s brain. As casual as the game might be, it isn’t a zero-brain-activity sort of game.

The game has been around for a while already, but it’s still being played by thousands, maybe even millions. Not convinced? Here’s Dave on why he thinks Plants Vs. Zombies is still one of the most fun games Plants Vs Zombies Is Still One Of The Most Fun Things You Can Do On Mobile [iOS] Plants Vs Zombies Is Still One Of The Most Fun Things You Can Do On Mobile [iOS] The world of iOS gaming moves fast. Games come out, generate hype, and are forgotten all in a matter of a couple of days. On consoles, gamers will stick with a game longer, but with... Read More out there.

Conclusion

These are just the cream of the crop across multiple genres. You’ve got an open world sandbox game with Minecraft, a physics puzzle game with Portal, a life simulation with The Sims, and a casual defense game with Plants Vs. Zombies. These are great games to get young children acquainted with video games without overloading them with sex, violence, and language.

What other games do you think are good for toddlers? If you were to introduce a child to the world of video games, which games would you start them with? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Girl and boy playing a video game Via Shutterstock

  1. AK
    January 22, 2014 at 4:41 am

    Stage 2: is LBP2
    some teen epic Fail in Portal [Call of Duty playz]

  2. Never Mind
    January 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    There are so much more for a toddler need to develop, so it's not even a question.
    With pre/teen it's difficult to hold it when half of child's friends have this fun and share it in school (and it would be a crime to steal that part of "modern" childhood from him/her). But there are so much more brilliant and, again, developing yet fun titles than those.
    Fear and zombies as such is so cheap emotion (to play on), such fake/bad topic and so much "flashing into your face" so I would not like to continue.
    Minecraft - sounds like very interesting and developing game, but in the end it results in gazillions of wasted hours and months of precious time same/repetitive time-consuming schemes (your boy won't into details of things in real world and won't be keen to build/complete something after that too).

  3. James B
    January 2, 2014 at 8:52 am

    You know "toddler" means 1-3 years old right?

  4. Stephanie
    January 2, 2014 at 7:13 am

    I am not a parent so I cannot speak to that, but I have seen many other people "parent" their children through this. I happen to think balance is essential, yes you want your kid to be the next genius in mensa, but fun and relaxation are just as important as knowledge. There are some children who take a lot of pleasure in reading, programming, and other things many of us find cumbersome. And yes I mean non fiction for us... again though, many children find reading the little engine that could to be tedious given an age/proficiency barrier.

    I was never read to as a kid, allowed much computer time, and I scored a lot higher on all the reading, math, ect. tests administered to elementary and up school children. However until high school I took no pleasure in learning things, every accelerated class I was shoved into I failed miserably in. Sometimes more is less...
    By this I mean, had I been allowed to explore my abilities to love learning without being forced into a neat little box of methodologies, I probably would have advanced faster.

    I think it is hard for parents to remember that every child is different, and you can only affect or change very little in how your child is. I definitely think good parenting is important, but to say video games are "ruining our future generation" is bogus. Our future is going to have video games or the like whether you like it or not. I wrote an essay in 8th grade to the nature of this topic, many games will actually teach your child important skills, and enhance their learning abilities elsewhere as well as teach them that learning and problem solving can be fun. I think if you sat down and thought without bias about some popular video games you would find much in even the shooters and hack and slash games.

  5. Josh
    January 1, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I tried Super Mario with my son last year when he was five. Didn't work out so well. Neither did any of the racing games he begged to try that i happened to be playing at the time. Next was Worms a few months ago, another dud. He's really into TMNT on Nickolodeon right now so I "acquired" a copy of Turtles in Time on SNES and finally had some success! Thanks for the article, we might try Minecraft next since he loves legos.

  6. Ritchie
    January 1, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Our kids started with educational sites like Starfall and loved them, but they would sure camp out on our laps if there were any games going on on our screens, so we introduced games to them gently.

    Plants vs Zombies was definitely one of the first that they sort of "got". They don't worry too much about winning, and the yell of "Nooooo" when you lose is also apparently fun.

    We had the old pet sims Catz and Dogz around. I'm not sure that was wise, save to say maybe don't put the welfare of pets into the hands of very young children ;)

    Minecraft, though, has been really interesting. It's multiplayer, so you can actually get in there with them, and it's like a giant LEGO set that you don't step on by accident. The six-year-old makes signs, types surprisingly complicated things in chat, builds like crazy and learns life lessons about not 'griefing' and will actually go adventuring in 'survival' mode, and the four-year-old freaks me out by building (and riding) railways everywhere and building small circuits out of redstone, like pulling a lever, lighting up the redstone 'wire', causing the TNT to activate and drop - he watches those how-to videos on the Minecraft.net home page and apparently learns a lot from them :)

    (And yes, I still read to them :) )

  7. Jon Smith
    January 1, 2014 at 4:24 am

    please don't. The longer you hold out, the better. But if you must...teach your child programming; that's better than playing a game. He will be smarter than the average consumer already.

  8. Halkun
    December 31, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Or get them well rounded by playing video games, going outside, reading, and spending time with family (having dinner together).... lol

    • Marte B
      January 1, 2014 at 5:42 am

      Toddlers do what their parents allow them to do. So if you don't get them started with the games, they won't know the difference. And I beg to differ about book reading being passive. Video games are passive. The kid only knows what the game creators allow him/her to know. There's no imagination involved whatsoever.

      Today you will be reading the book to your toddler, but soon enough the toddler will be reading the book to you. And THAT starts them on a lifetime of mental expansion. I taught myself to read before I was three, because my parents read to me and told me the sounds of the letters. Pretty soon I was sounding out words and realizing that I knew them. My two children did the same. And because we would not buy them video games and kept their computer and TV use to a minimum, plus taking them to the library every week, they won every reading contest in school.

      Look, try this. Check out an audio book from the library. Get a book you've already read (you do read books, right?) Listen to it. See how much more there is to the story.

    • NightmareNeal
      January 1, 2014 at 6:42 am

      Smartest comment on here tho

    • NightmareNeal
      January 1, 2014 at 6:45 am

      I agree with Mathew tbh

  9. Marte B
    December 31, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    No. Come on, guys. Don't get your kids hooked on zoning out in front of the TV. Instead of games, get books, and READ them to your children. Imagination produces far better alternate worlds than any game designer ever did. Toddlers need to be active, not video game zombies.

    • Joel L
      December 31, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Except videos do require active participation and thought unlike TV shows and movies. Being read a book is... passive.

    • Joel L
      December 31, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Video games*

    • Matthew Orndoff
      January 1, 2014 at 2:10 am

      Yeah I feel you, but I think he's writing this article as more damage control than anything. The reality is kids are going to play video games, and if they're going to play them, they might as well be these . As someone who played video games throughout a majority their childhood, while I don't necessarily "regret" playing video games so much, I definitely wish I would've spent more time doing things that... you know... actually mattered.

  10. Michael Scoates
    December 31, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I'd recommend any of the Traveller's Tales LEGO-based games like Batman, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter for problem solving/co-op, Just Dance Kids/Dance Central to keep them active, it's also worth noting that most Disney titles have pretty high production values and of course are child friendly at the same time.

    • jonen560ti
      January 2, 2014 at 9:25 am

      i hear their latest game is pretty decent.

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