The Best Videogames For Kids (That Aren’t First-Person Shooters Or Mass Warfare)

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My kiddos are in the process of transitioning to….big kids.  It happened so fast.  And while their playroom is still technically called a playroom, and their block sets are still getting used from time-to-time…..the pull of video games is strong.

Mike loved playing video games when he was growing up (still does, actually), so our kids have been allowed to play….well….a bunch of different video games.  Their favorite, of course, is Halo, a first person shooter that I remember Mike playing wayyyy too much of in college.  As far as violence goes, it’s high, but not crazy (we’re not talking Grand Theft Auto or anything), but after a few years of dealing with this, I have a few concerns:

  1.  Halo is insanely addictive.  There’s something about this game specifically (or maybe all first person shooters) that my boys have an unusually hard time turning away from.  (At one point, Raines even started waking up early in the morning to play, until we realized what was happening and shut that down.)
  2. My boys turn into whiny monsters when they are done playing.  While this is true (to a certain extent) for all video games, the first person shooters (like Halo) are the worst.
  3. When we have friends over, the kids want to play video games together.  And…..they can’t.  The newer versions of first-person shooters don’t even have multi-player options (something about render rates being too high for the current console technology), so only one kid can play at a time.  This leads to conflict, or – and this is almost worse – each kid sitting next to each other, absorbed into their own iphone/ipad/whatever.

Can we do better than Halo?  And YES:  I totally get that limiting screen time or providing board games could be a solution.  But sometimes….it’s been a long week.  And sometimes the parents just want to drink their wine in peace, without having to broker peace agreements over whatever.  On a Friday night, the kids just want to play video games.  And frankly, on Friday nights….we just want to let them.

So I turned to one of my new interns, Sydney Oswald.  Sydney is the one responsible for all of the new video content we’ve been producing, but – and this is very exciting – she’s majoring in Video Game Design at Drexel.  She rolled into the interview with both artwork for the games she’s designing, as well as a couple of playable games she’s worked on and we were basically all I LOVE YOU COME LIVE WITH US FOREVER.

Basically, Syd’s our resident celebrity.  My boys are totally obsessed with her.

So I turned to Sydney to help us solve our Friday-night screentime problem.  Which video games are best for kids to play?  There’s gotta be something better than first-person shooters and mass warfare, right???

Right.  Sydney spent the next few weeks pulling together games, testing them out with the boys, and talking to her game design buddies.  Here’s the resulting list, in her own words.

Hey! I’m Sydney, one of the interns here at the Mom Edit. When I started suggesting games I knew I wanted ones that the boys could play together that would also challenge them. There were lots of games that I was excited to pitch to the boys, but I narrowed it down to these 8. Pax and Raines were more than happy to put them to the test and tell me if they liked them or not. Some of these games like Portal 2 required lots of trial and error (lots of “wait wait….no that’s not right…..wait what did you just do?….oh YES that works!”) while others were more simple smash and run styles of play. In the end the big question was “Did you have fun?” and if the answer was “Yes!” it got put in this list.

Portal 2

Price: $20

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: 2 Player (Local + Online*)

Summary:

This game has two modes, a single player main story mode and a couch co-op that involves massive amounts of puzzle solving. I chose this specifically for its multiplayer capabilities and the fact that you only need one console to play together. The two players have to traverse puzzle rooms by opening portals and working as a team. Both robots you can play as have personalities, allowing you to wave, taunt, or hand signal to your friend from anywhere in the room. Some of the puzzles can be quite difficult, but with limitless ammo and no timer I think anyone can solve them eventually. This game is hard and tests the players’ problems solving skills. Pax and Raines have been working through the puzzle rooms with lots of communication and a little bit of help at the start.

Little Big Planet 2

Price: $21

Platforms: Playstation 3

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: 4 Player (Local + Online*)

Summary:

Another puzzle solving game but geared towards a younger age group than the Portal audience. The player is a Sackboy, basically a bean bag doll, which can be customized in hundreds of different ways to show off unique style. What is really cool about the Little Big Planet series of games is the capability to make your own games within the game (if that makes sense). There is a creative mode where players can make their own levels, craft games, or just mess around with a massive amount of objects. Anything you see in the pre-built levels is most likely already in the game building library! We’re talking cars shaped like cats, bounce pads that launch players across gaps, and gloves that let a player pick up heavy objects (or friends) and throw them around like it was nothing. I had a blast playing this with my young cousins so the age range for enjoying this game is pretty big (5+).

Minecraft

Price: $27

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: 4 Players on console (Local + Online*)

Summary:

I feel like Minecraft is one of those games that never really stops being fun as you get older. It’s been released on almost every platform I can think of and the only drawback is that on PC you may have to purchase a server for yourself if you want to play with friends not locally. This building, crafting, survival game is also a great place to get kids interested in coding. Minecraft has a massive community behind it and there have been tons of mods published to add things to the game. The mods range from changing how the textures in the game look to adding guns, magic, and sprawling cities. There are tons of books and guides out to introduce kids to coding through Minecraft as well. There is a creative mode that gives the player limitless items or a survival mode where all items must be found in the world and there are monsters that come out at night. My youngest cousins love this game and it sparked their interest in game design and programming right away (6+).

Splatoon 2

Price: $60

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: Online*

Summary:

While Splatoon and Splatoon 2 are third person shooters, they’re a lot less violent than Call of Duty or Battlefield. With its cartoon style and bright colors, this fighting game is geared towards kids who are looking for a brawl without exposing them to heavy warfare simulation games. The main point of Splatoon is to shoot the enemy team and the map with your team’s paint color. The more the map is covered in your team’s paint, the easier it is for you to move around and fight. Players control characters called Inklings, cartoony humanoid/squidish people, which they can then style up to fit their taste. New game modes are being added allowing players to choose whether they want an all-out brawl or team survival versus computer controlled enemies.

Rocket League

Price: $20 – $60 (depends on the platform)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: Online*

Summary:

At its most basic, Rocket League is a soccer game played by cars. Imagine a Hot Wheels car with a rocket strapped on the back trying to smash a massive soccer ball into a goal. This is a great game for kids who are a little more interested in sports or quick match games. Games last around 5 minutes (without overtime) and usually have two to four players on a team. It draws mostly from soccer, but is reminiscent of old demolition derby games. They’ve also added hockey and basketball to their repertoire of game modes. Bright colors, good music, and the ability to customize your vehicles with crazy hats and paints makes Rocket League an awesome experience for younger kids, but has enough challenge for older kids as well.  This is one of Raines and Pax’s new favorites.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

Price: $15

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, PC

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: 4 Player (Local)

Summary:

This game is everything you could ask for out of a game. You play as a secret octopus trying his best to be a loving father and caring husband. The game is goofy and fun with weird controls for all those legs. Players have to complete everyday tasks like cooking burgers or mowing the lawn, all while trying to blend in as a human dad. The game also offers a 4 player co-op version where each player controls one leg. You can only imagine the chaos.  (Note from Shana:  this one is so funny – and actually gets better with more people – that we’re often in tears laughing so hard.)

Don’t Starve Together

Price: $15

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

Single Player: Yes

Multiplayer: Online*

Summary:

This game offers a lot more of a challenge for open world explorers. Players can choose from a wide cast of characters and then hop right into a massive world full of danger and…..well danger. Players can choose to work together or alone to survive the harsh world they live in. This game is a lot of trial and error. Finding formulas to build new things to help you survive is difficult. Players can join an already established server, make their own that only friends can join, or make a public server that anyone can hop into. I think this game would be good for middle school and up if they like survival/building games with open world exploration.

Keep Talking and No One Explodes

Price: $15

Platforms: PC, Virtual Reality

Single Player: No

Multiplayer: Limitless (Local)

Summary:

As the name implies, this game is all about communication. One player is the bomb defuser who is in charge of communicating with the rest of the team. They are the only person who gets to look at the computer screen and see the bomb. The rest of the players open the bomb defusal manual and have to work quickly with the defuser to shut down the bomb. The manual holds all the answers: which wire to cut, what combination to enter, when to turn on the vents, etc. This is a difficult game that requires players to be able to read and solve puzzles. The slightly frustrating part about this game is the small description of how each puzzle works, which sometimes isn’t as helpful as it could be. I think the challenge and the infinite number of players makes this game awesome for parties, but keep in mind that the manual is a lot of reading. You can check the manual out here and determine if it’s a little intense for your kids.

Only offered through Steam.

*Online Games Warning

As with any game that is played online, the player is going to be exposed to the gaming community behind it. I believe these games are kid friendly, but they appeal to a wide range of ages. Be aware of the fact that college students, young adults, and middle schoolers are all sharing an online community. Most of these games offer text chat or microphone chat because they are team games, but they do generally come with the ability to turn them off or mute them. If the gaming community behind any of these games worries you, take a few minutes to poke around the options menus and look for chat settings. Depending on the game, you should be able to disable chat services or turn on a filter for curse words.

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About Author

Shana founded The Mom Edit in 2008. She lives with the love of her life (his name’s Mike) and their two crazy boys in downtown Philadelphia. She loves a good styling challenge (her engineering side shows eventually), appreciates kindness, and usually picks scotch over wine, sneakers over stilettos, and denim-underwear, always.

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25 Comments

  1. Brilliant post! My 2 older kids are approaching this age now (they are 7 and 5), and I will definitely be coming back to this list. I still remember a post from several years ago that had to do with how to support creative, open-ended, group outdoor play, and in some ways I feel like this is in the same spirit! Except, you know—screens. I thought a lot about that previous post when we were redesigning our backyard, by the way:). Thanks!

  2. My husband loves video games and has been playing them with my 9-yr-old son for a couple of years now. We started off with Lego for the PS and evolved into Destiny and Battlefront, with some RocketLeague thrown in from time to time. While he probably plays too much, I love that he and his dad get to spend time together doing something they love. And listening to their conversations is adorable.

  3. Any advice on which platform to buy? My husband and I are not gamers, but my kids are ready for one (10 and 6). I think Santa might bring them one this year. But I have no idea which one to get! My husband’s coworkers suggest the Nintendo Switch, but I notice most of the games above are not available on the Switch. This list is awesome, by the way! I also had no idea what games to get, other than their beloved Minecraft.

    • We vetoed the Switch for that very reason – most games aren’t available on that platform. Honestly, my son (10) and husband both love the Xbox One.

    • I’m glad you liked the article! I was raised with Playstations so I definitely prefer them. I think if you’re looking to buy a console, you need to look at the games offered and what your kids like to play. Most consoles have exclusive games that only work for that specific console (ie Splatoon 2 is exclusive to the Switch), so it may be best to start looking at those titles and working it out from there. The most recent generation of consoles (Xbox One and PS4) are subscription based for online play as well. The PS3 is free to play online however and that’s what I use to play with friends and family.

  4. Thank you for this post! My 10 year old boys love Plants vs Zombies and Rayman Legends. While Plants vs Zombies does have shooting, I feel it is very low violence and more fun (i.e. plants zapping each other). They also love all of the sports games – Madden, Fifa, NBA, etc. All of these games are multiplayer (up to 4) so they can also play together when their friends come over. We also have an old Wii and Mario Bros and Mario Kart are still hands down two of their favorite games to play. They also enjoy the Lego Harry Potter and Lego Star Wars. Again, all of these are not violent and are multiplayer.

  5. Good post! Any thoughts on Gaming Systems, which one is better for Littles (7yrs) and Bigs (10yr going on 20)? We have an old school Wii that our 2 boys are using, playing Mario Kart, Fifa and Madden. We just got Madden but have realized that games for the Wii are a finite resource. PS, Nintendo, Xbox?

    • If the kids love Mario games the Switch might be the way to go. The only downside is that it’s not backwards compatible with your old Wii or WiiU games. If sports games are more their thing and baseball is their favorite, the PS4 has the only baseball game on the market. If baseball doesn’t really matter then the Xbox One and PS4 are basically equal AND they give you backwards compatibility with some of your older games from previous consoles. One last thing to keep in mind is that each brand of console is going to have exclusive games (ie Splatoon 2 is only for the Switch). If you choose a console it may be worthwhile to check out their exclusives list before you buy. My honest opinion is that Xbox or Playstation is the way to go.

  6. Great post! I’ve enjoyed at least half of these games so I know the rest must be gold! I wanted to point to another game that seems to fit the theme here.

    Overcooked
    https://www.team17.com/games/overcooked/

    The basis for the game is that a giant spaghetti monster has attacked the world and you and your team must cook to feed the beast so that he will go away. But on the first try, it turns out you’re terrible at cooking. So King Onion sends you back in time to learn to cook in preparation for the spaghetti monster.

    It’s a puzzle game where you have to cook recipes and deliver orders, all with a shifting map and timed gameplay. It requires a lot of teamwork and can support up to 4 players in couch co-op. Age range probably starts at 7 or 8 because the puzzles get harder as you go. But my 5 and 6 year old can do the first few levels with no problem.

    We have it on the PS4, but it’s available through the Switch now too. Wikipedia says it’s also available for XBox One and Windows (via Steam).

    • Overcooked almost made it on the list! This game is amazing and I totally agree with you that it fits the theme of teamwork and puzzle solving! Couch co-ops have a special place in my heart and I’m always on the lookout for new ones to try.

    • This game sounds AWESOME! Both of my boys LUV monsters and or Zombies and are budding little chefs. Thanks for the headsup!

  7. Thank you so much for this post. My boys are 7 & 9 and my “mean mommy” rule was no video game consoles til age 10. Last week my 9.5 yr old asked if he can save his money to buy the console himself and we said yes, so the two of them decided they will save together, which I liked. I would also love to know which console is best, right now one wants an xbox and the other wants the nintendo switch. I would also love opinions on roblox which is immensely popular with their age group. Is gaming evolving to be mostly online? Thanks!

  8. Video games can stimulate and enhance brain function. That’s awesome that parents don’t have to feel bad about letting their kids have fun while taking a breather. Video games are also a great way for adults to take a step back their lives and goals vs outcomes and enjoy themselves. Keep Talking and No One Explodes sounds like a really fun game that I might try myself.

  9. Beautifully timed post! We are also considering a game console for our kids (5 & 7). Any suggestions as to which platform? The market is so overwhelming! Thanks again Mom Edit!

  10. Elizabeth Rafter on

    My boys are a bit older than yours at 17, 13 and 12, so we’ve been through a number of gaming consoles. We currently have a PS4, WiiU and Nintendo Switch. Each of my boys plays a different kind of game, though. My oldest is my war games player. He used to play Halo and Assassin’s Creed (which I *believe* is on par with Halo violence-wise, but the different generations are set in different time periods, ie. there’s a Revolutionary War edition). He just told me that now he’s “a hipster that only plays a 10 year old game (Team Fortress) on a PC.” Go figure. Jack, my middle son plays only sports games. Exclusively. I am currently asked for Madden 18 daily. Multiple times daily, actually. Dennis, the youngest, plays sports games sometimes but is more into Mario and Pokémon games. He just bought himself the newest Mario game and absolutely loves it!

    • Elizabeth Rafter on

      PS…it’s Super Mario Odyssey that he just got. I feel like the Mario games are pretty universally acceptable and loved by all ages!

  11. As an older mom of older kids now, it’s nice to consider which platform their friends have so they can play eachother when they get to the online stage:) we own quite a few consoles and the ones used most are the ones the friends have.

  12. The loss of the multiplayer option in newer first person shooter games is a loss to all! My husband and his buddies who are now far flung play one night week together and have resorted to buying old Playstation 3 games that allow them to still hangout together and shoot at stuff. When my 6 year old wanted to play with Daddy, we ended up getting an old, used copy of Plants vs Zombies that allows multi-player. He doesn’t play online with anyone, but they can go on quests together.

    For reasons I’ll never understand, my kid is afraid of Little Big Planet.

    Minecraft in creative mode is another good choice; they build things together or have “build battles”.

    And Wii, anything on Wii. That thing is ancient, but he loves it.

  13. We are getting our kids (7 and 5) the switch for Christmas. Mario Odyssey is adorable and you can play with 2 players. Also, there is a game called snipper clips, where two players have to cooperate to solve puzzles. We are starting our kids off with those two, and probably a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

    They are unlikely to get anything with a gun bc it’s just a personal pet peeve of mine, so they will have to wait until they have their own money for that lol.

  14. I am surprised that my marriage survived the Little Big Planet phase! My husband and I played the first iteration before kids. It was such a cute idea, but it was so stinking hard… or maybe we were just terrible at it. We love the Lego games, though – cooperative, have a great sense of humor, aren’t graphic, fun to play. My husband plays Lego Dimensions with our oldest and they have a great time.

  15. Yessss, I’m so glad Portal 2 was on this list! It’s my favorite game of all time, I’m not joking. I actually saw a study a while back that showed Portal was a better brain exercise than some of the things engineered to do that! It’s got action, science, puzzles, humor… Seriously, can’t get any better. Sometimes you need a break from GLADOS’s scathing remarks, though, haha.

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