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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.
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 .
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 ?
The Sims didn’t exist during my childhood, but I did play many of the precursor games like Sim Ant and Sim Tower. 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.
And with later versions, you can expand the gameplay further, such as in The Sims 4 with its player-created mods .
Plants Vs. Zombies
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 out there.
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