This post has been updated for 2021.
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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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. Below is the resulting list, in her own words. Be sure to head over to our full page of 2018 holiday gift guides for more seriously cool gift ideas for all your loved ones (or whomever).For other activity ideas and fun for kids, check out our kid style archives!
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 eight. 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 righ…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.
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.
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+).
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
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+).
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Single Player: Yes
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.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Single Player: Yes
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.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Single Player: Yes
Summary: Subnautica is a game I’ve been meaning to get into for a long time now. Survival and building is at the core of this game, all done while exploring the underwater world of this alien ocean planet. It’s a beautiful game filled with all kinds of weird ocean life and coral reefs. Some can be quite friendly while others see you as nothing but their next meal. One of the coolest parts of this game is the base building that goes on down beneath the surface. You create your own layout for your home and choose what goes where, but make sure to pay attention to the integrity of your new home so the ocean doesn’t end up crushing it.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Single Player: Yes
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.
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.