Appropriate Video Games for My Kids
Here’s a scenario: your son/daughter comes home, and they are so excited; their best friend showed them a video about this new video game. It’s bright, it’s shiny, it's things like “battle royal,” "microtransactions," “PvP,” “PvE,” “PvPvE,” "the meta," and "you shoot at people with guns.” At this point, along with the accompanying video, you are overwhelmed, your head is swarming, and you are a little worried about a form of entertainment that your last experience with was a pixelated version of Mario on a tube TV.
Video games have been rapidly evolving for the last 30 years, and if your relationship to them is a casual one, it can be hard to understand the nuances of the medium. Looking from the outside in, it may seem impenetrable, and you may just not want to deal with the stress of monitoring your child’s video game playing or forbid them from playing altogether. Below, we have some tools you can use, genre suggestions that you and your child can explore, and things you should keep an eye on.
Use the ESRB ratings:
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings to consumer video games in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The board assigns ratings to games based on their content, using a combination of six age-based levels intended to aid consumers in determining a game's content and suitability, along with a system of "content descriptors" which detail specific types of content present in a particular game.
Note, not every game will have an ESRB, but most will. Games that were commercially released will have an ESRB rating, which you can look up at https://www.esrb.org/.
Read about the game beforehand
Whether you read reviews, use Google, or look it up on Wikipedia, it’s always best to look into the game before letting your child play it. This will not only educate yourself on the content of the game, but also what experiences your child may discover upon playing. There are many review sites that specialize in rating video games and other media, there are even sights that aggregate sites that compile professional and non-professional reviews for a quick snapshot.
Here are a few sites to get started and see what you like
Platformers, called that because the primary gameplay elements are running, jumping, and leaping onto platforms! This genre of games has been an important part of the video game scene since its introduction with Donkey Kong (1981), and even being the first game largely considered to perfect camera movement in a 3D environment with Mario 64 (1996).
While the genre has endured, it is no longer the ubiquitous genre it once was. Still, the best of these games are approachable, typically simple with easy-to-understand rules, often colourful, and very replayable due to secrets, in game challenges, or collectables, and as a result, the genre has been a staple in video games for over 40 years. Co-incidentally, that is also why they are great for kids!
Game suggestion: Super Mario Odyssey
Puzzle games are a far broader genre than the previous one as they can come in a variety of different forms; they may be point and click, first person, or even text based, but they all have the central conceit of you being required to solve a puzzle to progress.
Requiring more of an analytical approach to solving problems, the puzzle genre is approachable from all ages and demographics because everyone can enjoy a good brain-teaser! Notable puzzle games include Tetris, Lemmings, Bejeweled, and our recommended pick, Portal 2!
Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle game with mind being puzzles you must solve with the titular portals. The first Portal is worthy of playing as well; however, if you were forced to just play one, it should be Portal 2. The game features a sci-fi story with a strong comedy bend, co-op specific missions you can play with family or friends,
The word emergent is defined as arising as an effect of complex causes, and not analyzable simply as the sum of their effects. Well, what does that mean, and how does it pertain to video games? All games are a mixture of rules and play, and when the rules are made to allow the player to get creative with the solution, you get emergent gameplay.
Emergent games are where you are given a goal and tools to accomplish it, and how you get there is up to the player. Sometimes the solution feels obvious, sometimes it feels like it shouldn't work but does. Emergent games are great for creativity and imagination.
Game suggestion: Scribblenauts
The sandbox gene has been the default genre is arguably the default when it comes to third-person games now. Spurred on by the controversial Grand Theft Auto 3, the genre took off in part because players were given a big open space to explore and play any way they wanted: follow the predefined mission structures, explore, or just mess around.
Now to be clear, the Grand Theft Auto games are not for kids, and are rated by the ESRB for people 17 and older. But not every sandbox game is GTA or a GTA clone. In fact, one of the most popular games of all time, and one that has had continual popularity since its release, is Minecraft. A game where a world is randomly created, you are plopped in the middle, and given no apparent goal. The world is constructed kind of like Lego pieces and everything has a blocky ascetic. The other major gameplay mode of Minecraft is the “creative” mode, where players are given access to all the building blocks and free rein to build anything their mind can think of.
Game suggestion: Minecraft
Things you should be aware of:
Since their inception, video games have been a social activity. The difference now is it isn't in an arcade or on the couch. Always online video games have become an increasingly common occurrence, almost to the point now where it is expected. With the increased connectivity, there comes an increase in the amount of people your child is exposed to online.
An important thing to note is that online interactions are not rated for any video game. If you are uncomfortable with your child interacting with random strangers online, it might be best to not allow them to play that game. Still, it is naive to think your child won't pursue exploration on their own, I did when I was young. The best thing to do is research how to stay safe online, talk with your child, and make sure they don't share personal information, or schedule meeting people without discussing it with you first.
Check out these articles for more information:
Free to Play, Micro Transactions, and In Game Advertising
Since the rise of the smartphone, mobile gaming has ballooned to a $93 billion dollar industry in 2021, 52% of the entire global video game industry's revenue. It is generating more money than movies and sports. You might be asking, "how is that possible?" Here's how: free to play games, microtransactions, and in game advertising.
The general takeaway is this: there is no such thing is a free game; a game will do one or all of the following: advertise to the player, take their personal information and sell it, or incentivizes buying in game content, in game currency, or loot boxes. These practices are so lucrative, even games that are paid for contain them.
The state of the industry is changing rapidly; there is an ongoing debate about the legality of some of these practices. In Canada, it is currently not illegal. The only thing the average player or parent of a player can do right now is to read up on the game, know if there are things within it that you are comfortable with, and stay vigilant.
Storefronts, like Steam, the Google Play Store, or the Playstation store, will have all necessary information for you to make an informed decision. As well, they will have parental controls to restrict unauthorized purchases or access to certain games. These will change depending on the platform; however, they are usually easy to find in the settings and if you need a "how to guide," try searching online.